AB protest 5
A truck driver helps block entry of trucks into a container terminal at the Port of Oakland in protest against AB 5. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Truckers protesting California’s new ‘gig worker’ law blocked the state’s third-largest seaport for a second day on Thursday, stalling agricultural exports and threatening to worsen supply chain safeguards American.

The operator of the Port of Oakland’s largest marine terminal closed it on Thursday, while the other three marine terminals on the property had onboard work underway, port spokesman Robert Bernardo said.

Independent truckers have been picketing terminal gates and choking off truck traffic on the port since Monday to protest California’s new labor law, officially known as Assembly Bill 5.

Backers say AB 5 aims to crack down on labor abuses and push companies to hire drivers as employees, which would allow them to join unions and bargain collectively with employers.

The law was a victory for the unions, but is widely opposed by big truck drivers who say it would cost them more to remain self-employed and push them to become company employees.

Protesters and the trucking industry want California Governor Gavin Newsom to delay enforcement. Some organizers say protesters – whose rally call is “Cargo will not move until AB 5 leaves” – won’t stop until they meet Newsom.

In a rebuff Thursday, the governor’s office said, “No one should be taken by surprise by the requirements of the law. The industry should focus on supporting this transition.

The eighth-busiest U.S. container seaport — a key hub for agricultural trade — was already working to eliminate a pandemic-fueled cargo backup before the trucker protests began. The ripple effects of the sometimes conflicting protests are already reverberating beyond trucking.

“It’s not just a one-time situation,” Shawna Morris, senior vice president of the US Dairy Export Council and the National Milk Producers Federation, said of the blockade.

Dairy and other food producers have struggled to get their products on the water because container shipping companies have prioritized more lucrative, pandemic-fueled imports from Asia to the United States.

“We added a tornado to the hurricane the industry has been trying to endure for almost two years now,” Morris said.

It also complicates matters for the International Union of Longshoremen and Warehousemen, which is involved in negotiations over US West Coast port labor contracts with terminal operators. The ILWU supports AB 5 and said its dockworkers did not cross the blockade line for security reasons.

“We are not going to put our members in danger to get through the line of truckers,” said ILWU Local 10 president Farless Dailey.

“We’ve sent 450 workers over the past three days who couldn’t come in to move goods for the day, and they don’t get paid when they don’t come in,” Dailey said.

When trucks and dockers don’t move cargo, the port clogs up and ships don’t move, worsening pushbacks and amplifying risk to shippers who depend on the port.

Oakland handles about $1.86 billion in exports per month this time of year. Two-thirds of the value of these are agricultural products, and perishables will be hit the hardest by the shutdown, said Jock O’Connell, international trade adviser at consultancy Beacon Economics.

It jeopardizes California’s more than $20 billion agricultural export industry and shipments of everything from almonds and rice to powdered milk and wine.

Time is also running out for the $18 billion U.S. pork and beef export market, said Joe Schuele, spokesman for the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

U.S. fresh beef and pork producers haul produce hundreds of miles to the Port of Oakland, as it is the preferred launching point for cargo ships bound for Asian countries like Japan and South Korea, Schuele said.

If port delays last more than a few days, chilled meat may need to be frozen to prevent it from spoiling, reducing its value while increasing frozen storage costs, he said.

“You don’t have a lot of time to waste,” Schuele said.