Washington state nears reclassification of port truckers

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/24/2012

A bill at the Washington statehouse to reclassify certain port truckers, including owner-operators, as employees is one step closer to passage.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and other groups, including the Washington Trucking Association, oppose the maneuver.

The Senate Labor and Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee voted to advance a bill that would deem drayage truck operators, as well as any owner-operators, going onto the ports of Seattle and Tacoma to be employees of any company that “directly engages the services.”

The bill – HB2395 – could soon be brought up for consideration on the Senate floor. If approved there, it would move to the governor’s desk. House lawmakers already approved the bill.

OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Joe Rajkovacz said the bill would effectively allow the state Department of Labor to reclassify independent contractors as employees if they go onto port property to do business.

He also noted that truckers affected by the proposal would extend beyond drayage haulers.

“The bill would also reclassify ag haulers, such as those hauling hay or apples, through the ports,” Rajkovacz said.

Truck drivers also note that the changes sought would run off small-business operations and discourage truckers from doing business in the state. Instead, they say the reliance on owner-operators is a widely used and reputable practice that should be encouraged as a way to stimulate Washington’s economy.

Supporters of HB2395 claim that drayage haulers are being misclassified. They say if the main concern is misclassification the state would be better served to focus on existing and established enforcement mechanisms.

Opponents have referred to the effort to meddle with interstate commerce as a violation of federal pre-emption.

The American Trucking Associations sued the city of Los Angeles in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit over portions of its clean truck program, including an expensive concession requirement that all trucks entering the port would have to comply with.

The ruling confirmed that states cannot regulate the routes, rates or services of trucks engaged in interstate commerce.

Larry Pursley, executive vice president of the Washington Trucking Association, wrote in a letter to lawmakers that the state could find itself in a legal battle.

“The passage of HB2395 would simply result in further litigation in which the trucking industry and others would be compelled to raise the federal pre-emption question yet again,” Pursley wrote.

OOIDA has issued multiple Calls to Action to Washington members encouraging truckers to contact their state lawmakers about the legislation. Another notice targeting Senators was issued Friday, Feb. 24.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Washington, click here.

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