Could Washington state trucker reclassification be near?

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On the move at the Washington statehouse is a bill that could soon result in many truck drivers being reclassified as employees.

In 2012, state lawmakers considered a related bill to deem drayage truck operators, as well as any owner-operators, going onto the ports of Seattle and Tacoma to be employees of a company that “directly engages the services.” It later died.

Groups that included the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Washington Trucking Association opposed the maneuver.

The House Labor and Workforce Development Committee voted 5-4 to advance a bill that would rewrite the definition of an independent contractor regardless whether they operate on a port. Specifically, HB1440 would presume an employer-employee relationship when services are performed for pay.

Supporters say that some employers classify people as subcontractors to avoid paying insurance and other benefits due employees.

The bill from Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, would require motor carriers to prove that drivers paid to haul loads are independent contractors. Criteria for independent status would include providing service that is outside a company’s normal business.

Truck drivers say 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.

Opponents also say the effort to meddle with interstate commerce is a violation of federal preemption.

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.

Phil Talmadge, legal counsel for the Washington Trucking Association, told lawmakers during recent discussion on the bill that the rule change would throw existing law into disarray.

“You’re going to have lawyers try to figure out what the hell this all means. I’m not sure that’s what you want to do,” Talmadge testified.

OOIDA encourages Washington truckers to contact their state lawmakers about the bill.

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

Editor’s Note: You are welcome to share your thoughts with us about this story. Comments may be sent to state_legislative_editor@ooida.com.

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