CPC president Will Swaim appeared on the popular The Way I Heard It with Mike Rowe podcast this week, along with California truck driver Tom Odom. The topic? California’s AB 5.
While the podcast usually steers clear of politics, Rowe read Will’s recent article, California Destroys Its Independent Truckers, and invited him on the show. Rowe, the former host of the Discovery Channel show “Dirty Jobs” and CNN’s “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” is one of the nation’s most thoughtful voices on blue collar jobs and the future of skilled trades.
“I try and stay in my lane…,” Rowe said as he teed up the podcast, “but I do think this is my lane. This is an issue here in California that’s going to impact everybody in the country. It’s called Assembly Bill #5 and basically it’s an attempt to destroy the gig economy or freelance work as we understand it.”
California’s 70,000-plus independent truckers are entrepreneurs who own and operate their own trucks, carrying cargo from California ports and manufacturers to the rest of the U.S. The destruction of the ability of these truckers to remain independent began when Governor Newsom signed AB 5.
That law compels independent drivers to surrender the companies they’ve built and seek employment in large firms that can hire them.
When he signed the bill, Newsom said the quiet part out loud: “Assembly Bill 5 is an important step…. A next step is creating pathways for more workers to form a union, collectively bargain to earn more, and have a stronger voice at work….”
AB 5 was always about enhancing union power. Its author, Lorena Gonzalez, was a San Diego–area Teamsters official when she entered the state assembly in 2013. She resigned in January to take what looked like a payoff for a good and faithful servant: head of the Teamsters-dominated California Labor Federation.
If herding independent contractors into corporations and concentrating economic power in fewer corporate hands seems inimical to Democrat messaging, consider the real purpose of AB 5: California union leaders use the money from members’ dues to bankroll the campaign of candidates who, like Gonzalez, return the favor by producing laws that grow unions.
It is the self-licking ice-cream cone of bureaucracy. That these laws are also killing the California economy is a minor point.
The story of truck driver Tom Odom is illustrative. Now a 59-year-old with nearly 40 years of driving behind him, Odom was raised in East Los Angeles, then as now a tough neighborhood.
“We were so poor that I recall my parents were occasionally on welfare,” he says. He dropped out of high school at 16, joined the military at 18, and after a short hitch “bounced around from minimum-wage job to minimum-wage job. I had no education, so what was I going to do?”
When his in-laws asked him to join their family trucking business, he did so “driving team” — industry parlance for driving long distances with a partner. While his father-in-law slept, Odom drove their rig hundreds of miles; while Odom slept, his father-in-law took the wheel and drove hundreds more.
“We never stopped,” Odom says. In 1996, with money from savings, he put down $10,000 to purchase two trucks and begin his own independent trucking firm.
“Here I was, an uneducated kid from East Los Angeles, and now I own my business and I’m making $100,000 per year after expenses,” Odom says. “There’s no way that kid is going to make that kind of money in any other business.”
Then came AB 5, and the end of the road for his business. Only a few independent truckers are likely to survive AB 5. Other state regulations are likely to finish them off.
Regional air-quality boards have declared California’s ports off-limits to trucks older than three years. The regulators say that’s necessary to limit emissions from older trucks. It will likely further concentrate market share in large corporations that can afford newer trucks.
California’s powerful Air Resources Board said it will pursue a ban on the sale of trucks that run on gasoline or diesel fuel after 2040.
“These actions can show the world how to simultaneously address the climate crisis, improve air quality and alleviate key concerns identified by communities,” said board chair Liane Randolph.
What California is actually showing the world is how to destroy a nation’s supply chain. Blowing up independent trucking is only part of that lesson.
California’s AB 5 is a model for pending federal regulation, brought to you by the U.S. labor secretary Marty Walsh. It should come as no surprise that Walsh, like AB 5 author Lorena Gonzalez, is a former Teamsters Union official.
It should also come as no surprise that Tom Odom and his wife, like so many other Californians, are leaving the Golden State for Texas.
“I don’t want to leave California, but I have to because California won’t allow me to work the way I want to work,” Odom says.
Read the full article by CPC president Will Swaim in National Review.
Listen to Mike Rowe’s podcast with CPC president Will Swaim and Tom Odom.