Despite AB5 pause, California team drivers continue ‘truck-friendly’ relocation search

California natives Jeff and Elyse Fink are still planning to relocate, but say a federal judge’s pause on the new sweeping labor law, AB5, that was set to take effect in January, has given them a little more time to plan their exit strategy.

“We are continuing with our plans to sell and relocate,” Jeff Fink told FreightWaves. “We want to be in a state that is truck friendly and California has proven to be an anti-truck state.”

The Finks, who currently live in Victorville, California, are team drivers leased to Long Haul Trucking of Albertville, Minnesota. In December, the carrier notified the Finks that they were not going to be able to dispatch them with loads leaving California unless they moved out of the state.

Prior to the preliminary injunction issued on Jan. 16, which blocks AB5 from being enforced pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the California Trucking Association, the Finks spent all of their home time in December prepping their house to sell and scouring for a new place in a different state to move in order to continue to work for Long Haul Trucking. 

The Finks have narrowed their search to three cities in Tennessee.

“The injunction does take the pressure off of our need to sell quickly, allowing us to continue improvement on our home in California to get top dollar on the sale,” Jeff Fink told FreightWaves. “This law is the motivation to complete the planned upgrades.”

Prior to the news that the state was enacting AB5, the Finks bought a 2020 Peterbilt Model 579 UltraLoft to comply with stringent California Air Resources Board (CARB) requirements.

“This new law is going to be a financial hardship for us if things don’t work out,” Fink said. “We made a large investment to comply with CARB and work in the state.”

The Finks’ mother-in-law currently lives in an assisted living facility about 110 miles from their home. Selling their place and moving to Tennessee, where they can also park their truck, was not a move they were ready to make ahead of AB5.

“My wife could drive down anytime she wanted to see her mom, but that’s not going to be the case now as we are looking to move across the country to maintain our livelihood,” Fink said. 

What is AB5?

In November 2019, trucking companies started contacting independent California truck drivers about plans to cut ties with them ahead of AB5, which was passed in September.

California-based owner-operators said they were being advised to move out of the state, get their own authority, which can be costly, or transition to positions as company drivers, in some cases, as outlined in the Employee and Independent Contractors law, AB5.

The state law determines whether a worker is an employee or contractor. It stems from the California Supreme Court’s decision against Dynamex Operations West Inc., a package and document delivery company. The court found that Dynamex misclassified its delivery drivers as independent contractors rather than employees and that all California-based companies that use independent contractors must use the “ABC test,” a three-pronged test to determine whether a worker is an employee.

Trucking companies must prove a worker is free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work; the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity.

Even with the pause on AB5, the Finks said they aren’t willing to risk their livelihoods if the decision in the CTA’s lawsuit doesn’t go as planned.

“There are so many owner-operators that are faced with this same threat,” Jeff Fink said. “It makes me angry that lawmakers put their own self-interests above the people impacted by these senseless laws.”

FreightWaves’ recently featured another California couple, Brian Gray and his wife, Karol, who moved to Oklahoma because of AB5 and CARB regulations they said are squeezing small-business truckers’ profit margins.

Read more articles by FreightWaves’ Clarissa Hawes