A convoy of truckers congested traffic along the 710 Freeway near the Port of Long Beach in protest of a state labor law on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

The 710 Freeway approaching Downtown Long Beach and the city’s port is known for its congestion during the best of times. Traffic on Wednesday, however, crept along especially slowly due to dozens of truckers protesting a California labor law.

Truckers in Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland are protesting California Assembly Bill 5, which redefined independent contractors and employees—and reclassified most of the state’s truckers in the process. Truckers are now largely considered employees, even though many prefer their independent contractor status due in large part to the flexibility that status allows.

The state passed the bill in 2019 as a way to regulate gig-economy businesses such as Uber, Lyft and Doordash. But those companies won exemption from the law, along with musicians, freelance writers and others.

Truckers fought for an exemption as well, and an injunction was put in place in 2020 that prevented enforcement while the lawsuit worked through the judicial system. But on June 30, the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal by the California Trucking Association, allowing the law that classifies truckers as employees to now be enforced.

“The frustration with the total lack of regard by the state of California for a business model that has provided thousands of men and women an opportunity to build and grow a business is now blatantly obvious,” Matt Schrap, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t matter how many independent drivers stood up and expressed concerns during the legislative process,” Schrap added.

The law is intended to ensure workers receive fair wages and other employment benefits. Many companies opposed the law, noting the increased expense. Some workers also opposed it, saying they preferred the independence of being an outside contractor, which allows them to control their work hours.

Other workers, however, pushed for the law, saying they were being denied benefits by being classified as outside contractors.

The convoy is not impacting terminal operations, according to the ports’ executive directors. At the Port of Los Angeles, staff and operators prepared for the protest in the days leading up to it, according to Executive Director Gene Seroka.

“These drivers have a view to put out there,” Seroka said in a news conference. “We gave them the depth, the breadth, the space they needed to voice their opinion, but kept this cargo moving through the port complex. And these drivers are very respectful to just that. I applaud them for coming out here today.”

The convoy was part of what is believed to be an anticipated 24-hour work stoppage.

The protest comes as supply chain congestion continues at the Long Beach and LA ports. In Long Beach, the number of containers sitting on dock awaiting transport has spiked in recent days to levels not seen in months.

At the end of October, the twin ports announced their plans to impose a “container dwell fee” for containers that sat on dock for extended periods of time. The supply chain responded and the number of languishing containers declined for months.

Because of the decrease, the fee has not been implemented. This week, however, that number shot back up, exceeding the October level that prompted the initial announcement.

Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, said all terminals and roadways in the harbor remained open amid the trucker protest.

“Our Harbor Patrol is working to ensure the safety and First Amendment rights of all concerned,” Cordero said in a statement. “We are aware of the issues surrounding the requirements of AB5, and we are working with our drayage partners and other stakeholders to ensure that goods can be delivered safely and quickly through the supply chain.”

Across the state, there are about 70,000 truck owner-operators. The California Trucking Association estimates the law could push thousands of drivers off the road while they take steps to comply with the new regulations, Supply Chain Brain reports.

The transition from an owner-operator model could cost truckers up to $20,000 per year in licenses, fees and insurance, Schrap told Bloomberg this week.

Retired Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, the recently appointed port and supply chain envoy to the Biden-Harris Administration Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, visited the Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday and said the administration was assessing the impacts of AB5.

“The truckers are so critical to the supply chain,” Lyons said. “We (have) got to make sure we’re setting conditions to take care of them to the best of our ability.”

City News Service contributed to this report.

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Business Journal.