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Truckers defy Oakland port authority ‘free speech zones’, continue multi-day blockade

A group of truck drivers trying to force changes to a state labor law brought the Port of Oakland to an effective standstill on Friday continuing a multi-day choke hold on one of the West Coast’s busiest shipping hubs.

Crowds of truckers blocked the few cargo trucks that tried to enter the facility on Friday morning despite warnings from port officials that protesters who do not abide by newly established “free speech zones” may be cited by law enforcement.

The statement from the Port of Oakland on Thursday evening signaled a tougher stance on truck drivers who until Friday have had free range to halt traffic at the facility. Major terminals announced a preemptive shutdown of Friday’s operations, meaning the standoff between truckers and authorities will likely escalate once operations resume next week and if the protesters keep up their current blockade.

The self-employed truckers have no beef with the port. But they are using the unorthodox standoff to call on Gov. Gavin Newsom to amend AB 5, a controversial labor law that they say could end their business model. Some say they will continue the port shutdown until they get action from Sacramento.

But there are signs that members of the loose coalition of truckers — who are not affiliated with a union — are growing weary.

“I don’t know how long I can keep it up, we all have bills,” said Long Mach, who recently took out a 30-year loan on a new $168,000 truck. “But it’s a matter of whether I go back to work now and in a month or two I’m forced out of business.”

The protests is stressing supply chains at the Port of Oakland, which was already struggling to meet trade demands at a key hub for Northern California’s agriculture exports.

Marilyn Sandifur, a port authority spokesperson, said the backlog of container ships has now ticked up to 12.

“Prolonged stoppage of port operations at Oakland for any reason interferes with commerce, increases congestion, and harms business for everyone,” Danny Wan, the port’s executive director, said in an open statement to the truckers. “We must all get back to normal operations!”

AB 5, which will require around 70,000 truckers, along with other independent contractors, to register as employees is commonly known as the “gig worker law.” The legislation is best known for forcing Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees and sparking a costly political battle by the ride-hailing companies hoping to avoid the regulation.

For California truckers, key provisions of the law have been on hold since 2020 amid legal challenges from a trucking association. But in June the Supreme Court declined to review the case and the state is now free to enforce the new system of employee classification.

On Thursday evening the Port of Oakland said it will continue to act as a go-between for truckers and the governor’s office over AB 5. However, Newsom has indicated that he has no intention of pushing for a trucker exemption to the law, which is heavily backed by major unions who say the trucking industry is rife with wage theft and workplace abuses.

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