California bill to ban owner-operators at ports tabled

| 6/7/2011

California port truckers, including owner-operators, no longer have to concern themselves with a bill that was described as ill-advised by industry representatives.

The bill called for all drayage truck operators, as well as any owner-operators going onto a port, to be employees of the companies that arrange for their services. The change would have effectively banned owner-operators from the ports.

Facing a deadline to advance it from the Assembly, the sponsor placed the bill – AB950 – on the inactive file. The move effectively killed it for the year.

However, the issue is not over. California rules allow the bill to be brought back for consideration next year.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said he introduced the bill because 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 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 Friday, 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.

About 40 groups, including OOIDA, joined together to oppose the bill. They said 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.”

Because California has two-year sessions, AB950 can be brought back for consideration next year. The full Assembly would get first crack at it. The Assembly Labor and Employment Committee approved the bill this spring.

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