Truckers’ Protest Grinds Commerce to a Halt at Port of Oakland

Waving American flags, the truckers constricted access to terminals at the port which handles 99% of the region’s containerized goods

In the middle of an already precarious U.S. supply chain situation, operations at the Port of Oakland slowed to a crawl on Tuesday as truckers protest a California law called AB5 that could make it more difficult for them to act as independent contractors.

Andrea Connolly, a spokeswoman for cargo-handler TraPac LLC, told the Wall Street Journal that protesters only allowed long-haul drivers into the facility at a rate of three trucks per half-hour, which reduced TraPac’s operations by 95 percent on Tuesday. The Port of Oakland handles 99 percent of all containerized goods in the region.

So what is AB5? Remember all the fuss back in 2020 with Uber and Lyft being asked to treat drivers as human beings—or at least employees? It’s that law. 

But truck drivers don’t want to be classified as full-time employees. They enjoy their status as owner-operators and want it to stay that way.

One major concern they share is that the law could force drivers to take on additional costs, such as insurance, in order to remain independent contractors. These added fees could amount to tens of thousands of dollars and could push many drivers out of business, reducing trucking capacity and hiking shipping costs. 

Ports around the country are already struggling to keep pace with the record cargo volumes following the Covid-19 pandemic. Oakland is no different.

In fact, according to the research firm Beacon Economics, the port is the second busiest gateway on the West Coast for exports and the third busiest for imports, handling more than 600,000 loaded boxes, measured in 20-foot equivalent units, during the first quarter of this year.

Ed Denike, the president of SSA containers—which handles 70 percent of the cargo coming in and out of the port—said that protestors blocked off gates to the companies terminals. “The thing that hurts the most is we are full,” he told WSJ.

While milder protests began at the port on Monday, their ranks doubled to roughly 1,000 by Tuesday. And it looks like the truckers are not stopping there. Bill Aboudi, president of trucking firm Oakland Port Services Corp., reported that protestors have set up tents and are even deep-frying and distributing food.

According to Marilyn Sandifur, a spokesperson for the Port of Oakland, the truckers have said that they plan to protest through Wednesday. WSJ reports that Sandifur implored workers to “take their message to Sacramento,” stating that “ongoing protests will drive customers away from Oakland and encourage them to take their business elsewhere.” 

While the truckers seem to be unified in their abhorrence of AB5, some simply can’t afford to lose a day’s pay protesting. 

After sleeping in his truck to try to get a jump on the protestors, Hedayatullah Ibrahimi, a 43-year-old owner-operator, told WSJ that he attempted to get into the Oakland terminal at 6 A.M. on Tuesday, but took a wide turn back around when protestors blocked him off and threatened to smash his windows. The retreat cost him about $800.

“I’m not blaming the protestors,” he said. “They are doing a good job because I am against the law. But I have to pay my bills.”

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