OAKLAND, Calif. — After four days of protests, Port of Oakland officials reached out to a group of owner-operators on Thursday with a letter that, they hoped, would ease the effects of picket lines on terminal operations.
Protesters had hoped that the letter would contain some sign that the state of California was hearing their concerns over the landmark AB5 labor law and was considering action. Many, as a result, were optimistic when Desmond DeMoss, safety and continuity officer at the Port of Oakland, arrived at Matson Terminal with five copies of the letter.
The letter, which was sent to Transport Dive as well as the protesters, includes a statement from the port director with a commitment to remain a liaison between truckers and the state, a statement from the governor’s office affirming AB5 remains in effect and an order to stop blocking terminal operations as of Monday or face a citation.
Owner-operators said the letter was a disappointment and lacked several key details.
“At this stage, obviously, we want to try to come to very amicable solutions so we can all get back to work and get this place running again and get you back to work so you can feed your families, we can be profitable and just see great things happen,” DeMoss told the crowd of protesters.
After a quick glance at the contents of the letter, Navdeep Ngill, president of Ocean Rail Logistics who was liasing with DeMoss, said: “It is teaching us what AB5 is. But it doesn’t say we will pause it for this time being.”
DeMoss replied that neither he nor the port could answer questions about AB5 enforcement on behalf of the government of California. Soon after, he left the visibly upset crowd with more questions than answers.
The crowd of protesters then split off to weigh their next steps and waited for more word from Ngill and others, who came back with a question for the group.
“Anyone who thinks that this paper [letter] accomplished anything?” The crowd loudly responded, “No, nothing.” Ngill then said, “So it brought us back to ground zero,” with some replying, “Yes.”
Finally, Ngill asked the group what they should do on Friday morning, to which the crowd yelled, “Strike!" "Continue the protest!" Stay here!”
Harpeet Sandhu, executive director of the American Sikh Caucus Committee, advised the protesters get legal representation. “I suggest you all somehow get a lawyer and respond to this letter.” The letter, Sandhu said, had created a paper trail that could start legal action.
Hardeep Grewal, an owner-operator since 2003, closed out the gathering with a call to action for protesters to recruit friends and ensure there was a strong presence on Friday, if they wanted the protests to continue.
Dozens of protesters gathered at the port on Friday morning to continue their efforts. Many expect protests will continue through Monday, though they said they would wait to decide until the end of the day.