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California AB5 rule could spread to other states, executive warns

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California ab5 rule could spread to other states, executive warns
California AB5 denies California-based owner operators the ability to work as independent self-employed drivers who profit from their own vehicles and set their own schedules. (The Trucker file photo)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The CEO of a company that designs and manufactures virtual simulators for driver training says to watch out — other states will likely follow California’s lead and pass legislation that would limit companies’ ability to classify workers as independent contractors rather than employees.

For the trucking industry, said John Kearney, CEO of Advanced Training Systems, that means that the law, known as AB5, denies California-based owner operators the ability to work as independent self-employed drivers who profit from their own vehicles and set their own schedules.

“This legislation is well-meaning,” Kearney said. “It addresses some real issues in today’s labor economy, but applying it to the trucking industry, however, would be neither useful nor helpful.”

The law takes effect January 1, 2020.

Other states, Kearney warned, are also considering measures aimed at worker reclassification.

A bill pending in the New Jersey legislature would reclassify virtually all workers in the state as regular employees.

A coalition of labor groups is pursuing similar legislation in New York, and California’s example could encourage the revival of failed attempts in Washington State and Oregon. New York City adopted a minimum wage for ride-hail drivers working for companies like Lyft and Uber but did not classify them as employees.

The new California law specifies an “ABC” test to determine a worker’s status. Workers will be classified as employees if they:

(A) Perform tasks under a company’s control;

(B) Do something integral to the company’s business;

(C) Do not operate an independent business in that trade;

As such, Kearney said, he or she is entitled to the area’s prevailing minimum wage, worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, expense reimbursement, paid sick leave and paid family leave. In addition, the employer is required to pay half of the employee’s Social Security tax.

The California Trucking Association and two California independent owner-operator truck drivers Tuesday filed an amended complaint with the U.S. Southern District Court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against AB5, which was passed by the California Legislature and signed into law on September 11 by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The trucking industry, Kearney said, is structured in such a way as to make the ABC test a poor fit. The U.S. has approximately 3.5 million truck drivers, the vast majority of whom are local and short-haul drivers already classified as employees.

There are also, however, approximately 350,000 independent business persons who own and operate their own trucks and whose businesses are based on contracting — usually with trucking companies — to make long-haul, full-truckload runs.

As plaintiffs in the AB5 case have pointed out, about 70,000 of these people are based in California and have made it clear that they do not want their businesses disrupted, Kearney said. He said the California law, if applied to truck drivers, may be in violation of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994, which bars states from enacting or enforcing laws affecting the transportation of property by motor carrier.

“Trucking,” says Kearney, “is essential to the U.S. economy — it’s how we move over 70 percent of all goods sold. The industry is currently struggling with a severe shortage of drivers, especially drivers willing and able to make the long-haul runs that keep American commerce functioning. To attract and retain the new drivers we need, the industry is changing rapidly. Issues of employment status and compensation are of course arising as part of these changes, and are being addressed; shotgun legislation like California’s AB5 would simply be a distraction from that effort. What trucking needs today are solutions, not more problems.”

 

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Georgia seaports set new record cargo volumes in 2019

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Georgia seaports set new record cargo volumes in 2019
Georgia's seaports are reporting record cargo volumes that moved across their docks in the 2019 calendar year. (Courtesy: Georgia Port Authority)

SAVANNAH, Ga. — The amount of cargo moving through Georgia’s seaports reached record levels in the past year, in part because of continued growth fueled by larger ships traversing the expanded Panama Canal, the Georgia Ports Authority’s top executive said Jan. 28.

The state-operated ports in Savannah and Brunswick handled a total of 38.5 million tons of imports and exports in calendar 2019, the agency reported. That’s an increase of 4.3% compared to last year.

The number of cargo containers, large metal boxes used to ship goods from consumer electronics to frozen chickens, moving across the docks at the Port of Savannah also reached record highs last year. The port handled 4.6 million container units through December, up 5.6% from 2018.

Griff Lynch, the port authority’s executive director, attributed much of the 2019 growth to the expansion of the Panama Canal that opened nearly four years ago. He said shippers are still increasing the size of the vessels using the route, funneling more cargo to the East Coast.

“On the container side, I think it still comes down to the expansion of the canal,” Lynch said. “We’re still enjoying the fruits of that.”

Savannah is the fourth-busiest U.S. port for shipping containerized cargo, behind only the Port of New York and New Jersey, and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California.

The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing a $973 million deepening of the shipping channel that connects Savannah’s port to the Atlantic Ocean to make room for the larger ships. Work on the projects second half began in September and is expected to be complete by the end of 2021.

A boost in automobile exports also helped to grow Georgia’s cargo volumes last year. GM and Volvo began exporting vehicles through Savannah last year, with Volvo also shipping cars through Brunswick. Overall, the ports moved more than 657,000 cars, trucks and tractors, up 2 percent from 2018.

Lynch said tariff increases last year during the U.S. trade war with China likely slowed the Georgia ports’ 2019 growth.

Now he expects Georgia to benefit after President Donald Trump signed the first part of a new U.S.-China trade agreement in which China has pledged to buy more U.S. agricultural products.

“We think that’s going to be a big deal for us,” Lynch said. “We’re already seeing it. Poultry is starting to move again, and that has been flat for several years.”

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ATA Truck Tonnage Index increased 3.3% in 2019

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Ata truck tonnage index increased 3.3% in 2019
After falling 3.4% in November 2019, the Truck Tonnage Index recovered in December, posting a 4% monthly increase. (courtesy: ATA)

ARLINGTON, Vir. — American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 3.3% in 2019, about half the annual gain in 2018 (6.7%). The increase was the tenth consecutive year in which the tonnage index has risen above the previous year.
The advanced SA For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index rose 4% in December after falling 3.4% in November. In December, the index equaled 118.2 (2015=100) compared with 113.6 in November.
“Last year was not a terrible year for for-hire truck tonnage, and despite the increase at the end of the year, 2019 was very uneven for the industry,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “The overall annual gain masks the very choppy freight environment throughout the year, which made the market feel worse for many fleets. In December, strong housing starts helped advance the index forward.” It is important to note that ATA’s tonnage data is dominated by contract freight.
November’s reading was revised down slightly compared with the December 2019 data. In December 2018, the SA index rose 3%, which was preceded by a 2% year-over-year drop in November.
The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage hauled by the fleets before seasonal adjustment, equaled 112.7 in December, 2% below the November level (115.1). In calculating the index, 100 represents the index from 2015.
Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 70.2% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 10.77 billion tons of freight in 2017. Motor carriers collected $700.1 billion, or 79.3% of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

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ACT Research For-Hire Trucking Index: Rates slip amid strong holiday freight

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Act research for-hire trucking index: rates slip amid strong holiday freight
For-hire index rates slip, but signs of freight recovery in 2020 "encouraging" (©2020 FOTOSEARCH)

COLUMBUS, Ind. – The latest release of ACT’s For-Hire Trucking Index showed improvement in for-hire freight volumes and utilization. The data used in the Index included December. Respectively, the data indicated 55.5 and 52.3 diffusion index readings, both up four points from November on a seasonally adjusted basis. But even as for-hire capacity contracted again, the Freight Rates Index slid to 48.7 in December.
The ACT For-Hire Trucking Index is a monthly survey of for-hire trucking service providers. ACT Research converts responses into diffusion indexes, where the neutral or flat level is 50.
Tim Denoyer, ACT Research’s Vice President and Senior Analyst commented, “We see encouraging signs that the freight downturn is in its late stages and the market will rebalance in 2020. However, the ongoing rate pressure, even as volumes ramped into the holidays, is symptomatic of ongoing excess industry capacity. Our survey respondents clearly get it, and reduced capacity for a sixth straight month, so we can pretty easily deduce that private fleet capacity additions through year-end 2019 are the main factor continuing to pressure for-hire rates.”
The ACT Freight Forecast provides forecasts for the direction of truck volumes and contract rates quarterly through 2020, with three years of annual forecasts for the truckload, less-than-truckload and intermodal segments of the transportation industry. For the truckload spot market, the report provides forecasts for the next twelve months.
In 2019, the average accuracy of ACT’s truckload spot rate forecasts was 98%. The ACT Research Freight Forecast uses equipment capacity modeling and the firm’s economics expertise to provide anticipated freight rates, helping businesses in transportation and logistics management plan with confidence.

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