Federal Judge Shields Independent Truckers From California Law

A federal judge has temporarily shielded 70,000 independent truckers from an unusually restrictive and possibly unconstitutional California law that virtually outlaws independent contracting.

Layoffs blamed on the law, known as AB5, were announced in December 2019 at media outlets across the United States. AB5 makes it difficult for gig-economy companies to classify those who work for them as independent contractors instead of employees. The law was backed by labor organizations critical of hard-to-unionize gig-economy jobs such as ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft.

Uber and courier services provider Postmates Inc. separately asked a federal court to halt enforcement of the law in a lawsuit filed on Jan. 6, CNN reported. They claimed in their suit that AB5 “is a vague and incoherent statute that does not accomplish what its sponsors have stated they sought to achieve.”

“California has failed to heed calls nor answer the big questions about the future of work and workers in a changing economy,” Postmates said in a statement. “Now is not the time to give up or stop talking. Californians deserve a thoughtful, collaborative process to address the 21st century workforce. Not another false choice.”

Days later, another federal judge refused to grant a temporary restraining order to freelance journalists who hoped to block enforcement of the law, which took effect Jan. 1.

But in the case cited as California Trucking Association v. Becerra, on Dec. 31, 2019, U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez of the Southern District of California ordered that the state is “temporarily enjoined from enforcing Assembly Bill 5 (‘AB-5’) as to any motor carrier operating in California, pending this Court’s resolution of Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.”

“AB5 threatens the livelihood of more than 70,000 independent truckers,” said association CEO Shawn Yadon in a previous statement. “The bill wrongfully restricts their ability to provide services as owner-operators and, therefore, runs afoul of federal law.”

As of press time, the office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat in charge of enforcing AB5, hadn’t responded to a request for comment from The Epoch Times.

A Jan. 13 hearing is scheduled to make the injunction permanent.

Benitez found that the truckers’ argument that the California law violated federal law is likely to prevail in the future, that not blocking the law would probably cause the truckers to experience irreparable harm, that the balance of equities tips in their favor, and that it would be in the public interest to grant the temporary restraining order.

The law improperly treats truck owner-operators as employees instead of “as the independent contractors that they are,” Benitez wrote.

“Plaintiffs have established that imminent, irreparable harm is likely because without significantly transforming their operations to treat independent contracting drivers as employees for all specified purposes under California laws and regulations, they face the risk of governmental enforcement actions, as well as criminal and civil penalties.”

Meanwhile, on Jan. 3, U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez of the Central District of California denied a temporary restraining order against AB5 to the American Society of Journalists and Authors Inc. (ASJA) and the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). Carveouts in the statute treat freelance journalists worse than other professions that engage in First Amendment-guaranteed speech, the plaintiffs argue.

The plaintiffs say the new law makes it impossible for their members to earn a living.

The lawsuit, cited as ASJA v. Becerra, was filed Dec. 17, 2019.

After praising the legislation as “a victory for workers everywhere,” left-leaning Vox Media canceled the contracts of more than 200 freelancers working for its SB Nation sports platform and replaced them with 20 new part-time and full-time staffers, Reason reported. AB5 “makes it impossible for us to continue with our current California team site structure because it restricts contractors from producing more than 35 written content ‘submissions’ per year,” according to SB Nation’s John Ness.

AB5 was enacted ostensibly to help workers by preventing their “misclassification.”

“Freelance journalists in California are losing work each day AB5 remains in effect, so we are disappointed the court did not issue an emergency temporary restraining order,” Jim Manley, an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation, which acts for the plaintiffs, told The Epoch Times.

“The court wanted to hold a full hearing before deciding on the injunction, which is understandable given the gravity of the issues. We look forward to the hearing on our motion for preliminary injunction on March 9.”

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