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Calif. loses classification case
Monday, 28 September 2009 00:00

A California Superior Court ruled against State Attorney General Jerry Brown Jr. in one of a handful of cases where he sued port trucking companies on charges its owner-operators should have been classified as employees.

On Sept. 22, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White ruled in favor of Pac Anchor Transportation and truck owner Alfredo Barajas.

Defense attorney Neil Lerner said his case was similar to the American Trucking Associations’ on-going suit against the Port of Los Angeles. A federal court will hear the ATA case in coming months after that court granted the association a preliminary injunction to prevent the port from requiring carriers hire drivers as employees only. A hearing is scheduled for later.

"This case should never have been brought, as it was clearly preempted by federal law, and since at least one California Appellate Court had previously so held,” Lerner said.

“Given that the AG has gubernatorial ambitions, and given that the support of the Teamsters, in votes and donations, will be needed for him to succeed and given the Teamsters near obsession with the port driver issues, connecting the dots is not that difficult,” Lerner said.

The Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act protects motor carriers from state regulation and preempts claims against motor carriers brought under California's Unfair Competition Law, Lerner said.

FAAAA prohibits states from enacting and enforcing laws related to motor carrier prices, routes, or services to maximize competitive forces in the trucking industry.

In 2008, Brown announced a crack-down on port trucking companies incorrectly classifying owneroperators as independent contractors instead of employees. One of the companies he sued was Pac Anchor, along with Barajas, its manager and truck dispatcher. At that time, Barajas also owned 75 trucks, which he leased to Pac Anchor.

Nationwide, several ports, including the Port of Oakland, have expressed interest in obtaining an FAAA exemption from Congress for port operations related to trucking. Motor carriers and shippers vigorously oppose this effort.

eTrucker.com, 9/28/2009