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Trio of Bills Seeks to Prevent California Truck Drivers from Being Exploited

Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) and Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) have introduced a trio of bills that are designed to protect California’s port truck drivers and to increase accountability for trucking companies who misclassify drivers as independent contractors. The legislation is sponsored by the Blue-Green Alliance, Teamsters, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and other workers rights groups.

The misclassification of drivers creates dangerous conditions for these essential workers and costs California nearly $850 million per year.

As California continues to roll out benefits and incentives for low and zero emission truck fleets, this legislation seeks to make it harder for trucking companies to misclassify drivers as "contractors" depriving them of benefits while reaping tax incentives. Misclassifying drivers has many unfortunate side-effects for drivers, including being excluded from receiving basic benefits ranging from unemployment insurance, disability insurance, worker compensation, to health insurance. A recent story in AJOT News on a drivers' strike details how complaints regarding COVID protections were ignored at one trucking company, and how drivers' complaints to OSHA fell on deaf ears.

"During the COVID pandemic, this (misclassification) included a failure to provide PPE at our ports, the largest ports in the nation," explained Gonzalez at a press event promoting the legislation earlier this month. "Sanitizing shared equipment and notifying workers about potential COVID exposure was nonexistent. This is not what California stands for."

Gonzalez authored S.B. 338, which would create and expand reporting of trucking companies found to violate state laws on driver classification, other health and safety violations and any liability owed to the State of California. This information would be publicly available, so that stores and producers know with whom they are doing business. The bill has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be heard by the Appropriations Committee on Monday, May 3.

Senator Maria Elena Durazo authored S.B. 700, which is also scheduled to be heard at the Appropriations Committee next Monday. S.B. 700 would stipulate that trucking companies are responsible for paying payroll taxes for unemployment insurance, not the driver. Durzao, a longtime champion of labor issues, told the Sacramento Bee that, "many drivers are misclassified as independent contractors when their work is controlled by trucking companies." Her legislation seeks to blunt the financial incentive to misclassify drivers.

On #WorkersMemorialDay, Ruth Cruz spoke of her husband Edwin Cruz, who passed away from COVID-19. He was a driver for Universal’s Southern Counties Express. Cruz called on CA lawmakers to pass #SB338 #SB700 & #AB794 to protect port drivers & end misclassification at the ports. Photo: LAANE/Twitter
On #WorkersMemorialDay, Ruth Cruz spoke of her husband Edwin Cruz, who passed away from COVID-19. He was a driver for Universal’s Southern Counties Express. Cruz called on CA lawmakers to pass S.B. 338,  S.B. 700 and A.B. 794 to protect port drivers and end misclassification at the ports. Photo: LAANE/Twitter

Assemblymember Carillo's A.B. 794 is heralded as a piece of "Green New Deal" legislation. It would require some trucking companies to follow certain workforce standards if they want to get state incentives for buying low-emission vehicles. A.B. 794 already cleared committees in the Assembly and appears to be headed for final passage before heading to the Senate.

"#AB794 will be a game changer in California - aligning climate change goals with labor standards for public dollar incentives for truck drivers," tweeted Carillo after her bill cleared the Assembly Transportation Committee earlier this week. "It’s bold and innovative in creating a true 'just transition' for workers."

Indeed, environmental groups and labor groups have found common-cause in this legislative package. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is one group supporting the package. They write in a one-pager explaining the legislation, "This bill adds high road investment criteria to ensure that disadvantaged and dislocated workers benefit from quality jobs in vehicle manufacturing and truck driving. In doing so, this bill will also increase the effectiveness of clean vehicle and air regulations."

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