California port bill would ban owner-operators

| 5/11/2011

A bill that affects California port truckers, including owner-operators, is described as ill-advised by industry representatives.

The Assembly Labor and Employment Committee voted 5-1 to advance a bill to the full Assembly. It would deem drayage truck operators, as well as any owner-operators going onto a port, to be employees of the companies that arrange for their services. It would effectively ban owner-operators from the ports.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, is the sponsor of the bill – AB950 – claiming that drivers at California’s ports and intermodal rail yards are being misclassified. Perez is a cousin of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The cousins are former labor organizers.

Perez wrote in the bill that classifying affected drivers as employees would ease concerns about retaliation for reporting safety concerns and help ensure that operators have workers’ compensation insurance.

The legislative attack on driver classification mirrors a lawsuit brought by the American Trucking Associations. The truckers group sued Los Angeles over portions of its clean truck program, including an expensive concession requirement that all trucks entering the port would have to comply with. That case is scheduled to begin oral arguments at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on June 10.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association worked to secure a day-pass system by which trucks could make occasional port visits without paying expensive concessionaire fees.

Nearly 30 groups, including OOIDA, have joined together to oppose the bill. They say it would eliminate the jobs and rights of owner-operators to conduct business at California ports.

In a letter sent to lawmakers, industry representatives pointed out that “owner operators provide necessary capacity and flexibility to meet the varying demands of port drayage. To impose an employee drivers mandate on the companies who arrange for drayage services is simply not consistent with reality of port activity.”

Opponents also note there has been no practical public or driver safety argument made for outright banning owner-operators from California ports. Instead, the letter’s recommendation is that, if the main concern is misclassification, the state would be better served to “focus on existing and established enforcement mechanisms.”

“This bill reaches too far in eliminating a class of drivers and small businesses that represent the dominant model for the drayage industry.”

The bill could be considered on the Assembly floor as soon as Thursday, May 12. If approved there, AB950 would advance to the Senate for further consideration.

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