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California's 40th District

Jul 14, 2022 | Economy, In The News

As port truckers in Southern California protest a law reclassifying how employees are defined, Rep. Michelle Steel is driving a renewed effort to highlight concerns with the labor law. 

Enacted in 2019, Assembly Bill 5 is a sweeping measure touted as an effort to ensure certain protections for workers, including minimum wage and health insurance. Proponents have said it would safeguard independent workers while opponents have warned it could disrupt livelihoods and the economy. 

On Wednesday, a convoy of port truckers led a protest through the Los Angeles-Long Beach port, slowing traffic and resulting in a terminal closure due to safety concerns regarding the truck traffic. 

The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to take up an appeal by the California Trucking Association challenging AB 5, and truckers are concerned the law could impact the ability of those who own their own trucks to continue operating with companies.

majority of truckers, including those serving Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland, some of the country’s largest ports, are owner-operators. 

Steel (R-Seal Beach) has long opposed the law, often calling for its repeal. She said it has reached a “crisis” point, warning “it will get much worse in California” — especially for the approximately 70,000 independent truckers in the state. 

In a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday, Steel and nine other California Republicans implored the state’s chief executive to “take action to ensure this recent ruling will not add burdens to our already-crippled supply chains.”

“AB 5 continues to restrict the ability of Californians to work as independent contractors,” the lawmakers said in a letter first shared with the Southern California News Group. “This law creates a chilling effect for many supply chain industries and makes it more difficult for independently contracted truck drivers to operate, leading many to leave California.

“Without enough truckers, cargo will continue to sit at the ports waiting to be delivered. We must allow for truckers in California to work as independent contractors.”

Steel was joined on the letter by Reps. Young Kim, Jay Obernolte, Darrell Issa, Ken Calvert, Tom McClintock, Mike Garcia, Connie Conway, David Valadao and Doug LaMalfa. 

A spokesperson for Newsom did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Newsom is currently in Washington, D.C., but Steel said she did not have specific plans to meet with him as of Thursday afternoon. 

The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are responsible for more than 40% of container imports and 30% of exports in the U.S., the lawmakers said, noting a trucker shorter and uncertainty could cause additional strain on an already-exasperated supply chain. 

“We really have to do better to accommodate these truck drivers coming in and taking those cargos out from Long Beach and L.A. ports,” Steel told SCNG. “It’s not just hurting the industries themselves, but it’s hurting California in the future.”

Steel said she wants Newsom to work with the legislature to repeal AB 5.

So what even is AB 5? 

Touted as an effort to ensure safeguards for workers, especially independent contractors or “gig” workers, AB 5 was signed into law by Newsom in 2019 on the heels of a California Supreme Court ruling. 

The idea was to apply an “ABC” test to be considered an independent contractor, or otherwise be classified as an employee: 

(A) The person is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact.

(B) The person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.

(C) The person is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

“The hollowing out of our middle-class has been 40 years in the making, and the need to create lasting economic security for our workforce demands action,” Newsom said in a September 2019 letter to the California Assembly. “Assembly Bill 5 is an important step.”

But the law has left some workers, including truckers, concerned about the future of their ability to maintain independence while still working. 

Specifically, the California Trucking Association argued the measure would make it more difficult for drivers who own their own trucks and make their own hours to continue. 

The Harbor Trucking Association said protesting drivers are concerned AB 5 “will prevent independent owner operator truck drivers from contracting with other trucking companies for services, essentially paving the way to an employee model.”

The Orange County Register

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