Supreme Court Declines to Hear Trucker Challenge of California Anti-Gig Law

By Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.
October 7, 2021 Updated: October 7, 2021

The Supreme Court won’t consider a challenge by Cal Cartage Transportation Express, a trucking company, to California’s unusually restrictive worker-classification law that virtually outlaws independent contracting.

Independent truckers say the California law known as AB5, which took effect Jan. 1, 2020, will kill their industry by preventing companies from hiring them. The statute, which was pushed by organized labor to crack down on the hard-to-unionize so-called gig economy represented by companies such as Uber and Lyft, was enacted ostensibly to help workers by preventing their “misclassification.” The law is unpopular in California’s business community.

The Supreme Court has yet to decide if it will take up an appeal by the California Trucking Association from a ruling from earlier in 2021 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. As The Epoch Times has previously reported, the association is arguing that the 9th Circuit was wrong to reject its challenge to AB5, which it says makes it essentially impossible for motor carriers to continue giving work to independent owner-operators.

Representatives of the association didn’t respond by press time to a request for comment regarding its reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the Cal Cartage case.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to take up the case comes weeks after a California voter-approved referendum limiting the reach of AB5 was invalidated by a state judge.

California Proposition 22 was approved by state voters in 2020, but ruled unconstitutional in August by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch. The measure, which had allowed Uber, Lyft, Door Dash, Instacart, and other app-based businesses to classify their workers as independent contractors, infringed on the state legislature’s authority, the judge ruled. Prop 22 also contained wording preventing unionizing by drivers, which violated the state constitution’s rule that laws and initiatives deal with one subject only, Roesch determined.

The decision by the Supreme Court to turn away the petition for certiorari, or review, came in an unsigned order on Oct. 4. As is the high court’s custom, it didn’t provide a reason for its decision.

The case is Cal Cartage Transportation Express LLC v. California. The appeal, which challenges a ruling from the Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, was docketed by the Supreme Court on April 16.

Cal Cartage argued in the petition that AB5 threatens the time-honored owner-operator model in which drivers who own their own vehicles work as independent contractors and that the law was preempted by federal regulations dealing with working conditions for truck drivers.

The Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 was created to prevent states from undermining federal deregulation of the trucking industry by imposing regulations of their own, the petition stated.

“Congress had grown concerned with the dizzying patchwork of state laws that motor carriers had to contend with—including laws that discouraged the use of independent contractor truck drivers, who form the backbone of the trucking industry nationwide— and decided that the solution was to broadly preempt all state laws ‘related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier,’” the petition reads.

This language prevents states from substituting their own regulatory judgment for free market forces and lets motor carriers engage in uniform business practices across the country.

“California, on the other hand—like several other States, including Massachusetts and Illinois—has sought to force motor carriers to cease contracting with independent owner-operator truck drivers, preferring instead an employee model in which truck drivers are wage laborers rather than entrepreneurs,” the petition reads. “These states have enacted a so-called ‘ABC test’ for worker classification, declaring workers to be employees unless they are in a different line of business from the companies that hire them—a requirement that can never be met when a motor carrier hires a truck driver.”

The office of  California Attorney General Rob Bonta, a Democrat, didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.

Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.