On Dec. 31, 2019, senior U.S. District Court Judge Roger T. Benitez of the Southern District of California, a 2003 George W. Bush appointee, made California truckers happy heading into the new year, granting an initial victory to plaintiff California Trucking Association (CTA) in its bid to block California’s new Assembly Bill 5 (AB-5). Benitez granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) barring enforcement of AB-5 against “any motor carrier operating in California.” The order’s effect is indefinite, pending the court’s resolution of CTA’s motion for preliminary injunction. That motion will be heard Jan. 13.

AB-5, known as the “gig worker” law, was signed into law on Sept. 18, 2019, by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who penned his support for the law in an op-ed touting a need to reverse what he called a “trend” of employer “misclassification” by re-classifying what could be tens of thousands of freelance workers and independent contractors as company employees. AB-5 was heavily criticized and met with a near-immediate flurry of lawsuits decrying the law as a “thinly veiled attempt” to target “gig” companies and workers, and a violation of various constitutional rights. Suits were filed by a group of freelance journalists hit by a series of layoffs (including 200 freelancers who had their contracts canceled by Vox Media), ride-hailing company Uber and courier-services company Postmates. The commercial trucking industry in particular—both large companies like Landstar and small independent truckers alike—feared the impact the law would have on trucking operations, with independent owner-operators (individuals who lease or purchase their own truck, then haul shipments for bigger companies for pay) advising they would no longer be able to operate in California with the law in place. That would be a significant loss: Independent owner-operators make up 9% of the truckers hauling freight on American roads. A typical owner-operator will log more than 2.5 million miles in their career.

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