Protesting truckers halted traffic at a Northern California port, one of the busiest in the United States, on Wednesday as they demonstrated against a new state labor law that makes it harder to exploit independent truckers.
The drivers planted pickets at the gates and prevented other truckers from transporting goods in and out of the port. Protests in Oakland began on Monday and have grown larger and more disruptive with each passing day.
Late Wednesday, Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan acknowledged protesters’ frustration with California’s “on-demand workers” law and warned that a prolonged shutdown would “harm all companies operating in the ports” and would encourage customers to transfer their goods to rival seaports.
Protesters fear that the law, which could soon come into force, will impose high costs on them that will reduce their income.
SSA Marine, which operates the Port of Oakland’s largest terminal in the San Francisco Bay Area, closed operations on Wednesday due to the protests, which brought operations to other marine terminals to a virtual halt.
Terminal managers from SSA and Everport have sent International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) dockworkers home for safety reasons, a source familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
Terminal representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The new law, officially called AB5, sets stricter standards for classifying workers as independent contractors.
Legal challenges from the trucking industry delayed the law’s enactment for more than two years, but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case on June 30, clearing the way for its prosecution.
Backers, including the Teamsters and the ILWU, say AB5 is aimed at cracking down on labor abuses and pushing companies to hire drivers as employees – which would allow them to join unions and to bargain collectively with employers.
Some 5,000 truckers work at the Port of Oakland, which is a major hub for agricultural exports, including almonds, rice and wine.
The protests in Oakland followed actions last week at the country’s two major seaports, Los Angeles and Long Beach in southern California.
California’s three ports handle about half of the country’s containerized freight volume. The trucker protests come as the ILWU, which represents dockworkers at these ports and other US West Coast ports, is in high-stakes contract talks with the terminal operators who employ them.
Protest organizers say their actions will continue until they secure an audience with Gov. Gavin Newsom, who did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
On Monday, the Governor’s Office for Business and Economic Development said, “Now that the federal courts have dismissed appeals from the trucking industry, it’s time to move forward.”
(Reuters – Reporting by Lisa Baertlein; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Cynthia Osterman and Richard Pullin)