Port of Oakland Reopens as Trucker Blockade Ends
With protesters limited to ‘free-speech zones,’ companies focus on clearing a big backlog of import and export containers
Cargo containers started moving again through California’s Port of Oakland on Monday after independent truck drivers stood down from protests that effectively shut down one of the West Coast’s largest ports for almost a week.
Officials at the private operators of Oakland’s shipping terminals said they were clearing backlogs of ships and boxes that had grown since the truckers began blocking the port’s gates early last week, bringing operations to a standstill to protest a new California “gig economy” law.
Bill Aboudi, president of trucking company Oakland Port Services Corp., said he tried to make appointments to pick up containers early Monday but the earliest slot available was Tuesday night.
“It’s just everybody trying to cram a week’s worth of work into one day, just doesn’t work,” Mr. Aboudi said. “Nothing will be normal for another few weeks.”
Activity first resumed slowly on Saturday when protesters didn’t turn up during the port’s limited weekend hours. By Monday with business ramping up again, gates were clear and trucks were moving.
The port, in what it called an open letter to the truckers issued late Thursday, said truckers opposed to the new state law should confine protests to designated zones and warned that anyone block gates could be “cited and penalized” by police. A spokesman for California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said at the time that truckers should “focus on supporting this transition” to the new law.
“For one week, the police didn’t act. But today, they threatened to act,” Able Zerfiel, one of the protesters, said Monday. “They’re even going to give us tickets for parking our little cars. So we leave our cars in the public park, and we walk down to the free-speech zone to show our insignia.”
Mr. Zerfiel said protesters were maintaining a presence without blocking the gates.
The truckers are protesting the new law, known as AB5, that toughens the definition of independent contractors. Although the law went into effect for a range of professions in 2020, a legal challenge by the trucking sector has held up enforcement in the trucking industry.
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review the case, sending it back to a state court and potentially allowing California to begin enforcing the law if it gets the go-ahead from that court.
Some of an estimated 70,000 independent truckers in California say they prefer to work as what the sector calls owner-operators but that the law would make it prohibitively expensive to remain independent.
Ed DeNike, president of SSA Containers, which owns the terminal that handles about 70% of the cargo entering and leaving the Port of Oakland, said the SSA facility had almost run out of room to handle boxes.
“The problem was we were trying to work ships and taking containers off the ships and putting them in the yard and no one was picking up,” said Mr. DeNike, whose company normally handles about 8,000 to 9,000 containers weekly. “But now we’re open. They can start picking up containers. That’ll help give us more capacity in the yard.”