Washington state owner-operators under attack?

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/1/2013

Multiple bills at the Washington statehouse would reclassify certain port truckers, including owner-operators, as employees and overhaul the state’s definition of independent contractors.

The House Finance Committee voted 8-5 to advance a bill Thursday, Feb. 28, that would rewrite the definition of an independent contractor. 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.

Motor carriers would be required 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.

Groups that include the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Washington Trucking Association oppose the maneuver. They say that the changes sought would meddle with interstate commerce, which is a violation of federal pre-emption.

Several years ago, 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 subseqent ruling confirmed that states cannot regulate the routes, rates or services of trucks engaged in interstate commerce.

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case.

Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, told committee members that despite efforts to improve the bill it simply doesn’t work for him.

“It’s kind of like putting lipstick on a pig,” Orcutt said. “It might look better, but I still don’t want to kiss it.”

“There are way too many problems with this bill. It doesn’t solve the problem people are talking about, and it ultimately would create more problems.”

A related effort – HB1719 – under review in the House would deem drayage truckers going onto the ports of Seattle and Tacoma to be employees of the facilities, with the exception of agricultural haulers. A similar bill from a year ago sought to make affected port truckers employees of a company that “directly engages the services.”

The House Labor and Workforce Development Committee voted 5-4 to advance this year’s version, which would effectively prohibit owner-operators from the ports.

Supporters say the change is needed to help drayage haulers who cannot afford to maintain their trucks. They say it would also result in improved treatment of drivers and better working conditions.

Larry Pursley, Washington Trucking Associations executive vice president, told the panel before the vote that truck drivers choose to be independent contractors. He said the status allows them the opportunity to decide what and where they will haul.

Both bills await further House consideration. If approved there, they would advance to the Senate.

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

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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