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Port of Oakland sues for injunction against AB 5 protestors

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Updated Aug 2, 2022

On Monday, July 25, even as the Port of Oakland was getting back to steady business after a week of being hampered by activities of independent truckers protesting in hopes of persuading state officials to modify California's AB 5 contractor law, port officials filed suit against the protestors. The suit asks California Superior Court to render judgment to enjoin protest participants from engaging in various alleged "illegal activities." 

The suit was filed by the city of Oakland and the port officials alleging "a carefully planned and orchestrated campaign intended to block traffic, create life safety hazards for persons intending to work and/or do business" at the port and "prevent vital interstate and international commerce from being conducted."

Those "Illegal activities' alleged by the suit include "walking other than on left edge of roadway," failure to yield, "stopping or delaying traffic in a marked or unmarked crosswalk," trespassing, criminal nuisance, obstructing an officer, and more. Such allegations are supported in the suit's text as filed with an account from a private investigator who said he monitored protestors on a single day -- the final Friday of the protests -- helping identify the four named defendants and witnessing the various alleged activities.

Ultimately, the port asks for both a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction preventing "blocking or obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic, ... violating traffic laws or other laws, ... preventing persons with legitimate business on plaintiff's property from conducting that business," and more.

Joe Rajkovacz of the Western States Trucking Association saw the suit's filing fundamentally as "just a charade, and it’s meant to intimidate the predominantly immigrant truckers" who made up the owner-operators demonstrating against California's AB 5 contractor law, he said. The law makes many of those independents' contracting relationships with partner carriers problematic, at best, and fundamentally illegal at worst. As previously reported extensively, a prior injunction against the law's application to trucking in California is expected to be lifted following the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear a challenge to the law.  

[Related: AB 5 contractor law: California small fleets, owner-operators take stock]

As far as the "illegal activities" alleged by the suit, Rajkovacz characterized most as "jaywalking" in all of its various forms, speculating his own witness to day 1 of the events on Monday, July 18, might land him among the 2,000 "Does" the suit includes as defendants. "I kind of view myself as one of the Does," he said. Rajkovacz recalled standing in the roadway with several California Highway Patrol officers while taking pictures of activities there, for instance. 

The preliminary injunction, the suit hopes, is a first step toward a permanent injunction aimed at preventing such activities by defendants, AB 5 protest organizers and participants, into the future. 

According to the suit, the city of Oakland and port officials recognize that "while the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects speech and the right to petition for a redress of grievances," port officials contend therein that "the United States Supreme Court has unequivocally and repeatedly held that the First Amendment does not permit protesters to prevent persons and vehicles from traversing public rights of way in the hopes of securing a captive audience or drawing media attention to their cause."

The port emphasizes the economic harm blocked access to marine terminals caused, and that this isn't the first time the Port has pursued such a legal tactic against demonstrators, citing cases filed in 2004 (settled and dismissed), 2008 and 2013 (both ending with permanent injunctions) where such an action was requested. At once, though, protests with a wide variety of underlying causes -- not just by truckers -- have occurred through the years without such an aggressive official action following.

"The Bay Area attitude toward protests," generally speaking, noted Rajkovacz, has been "very tolerant," noting particularly an action last year where an Israeli-owned ship docked at the port was blocked from being unloaded and diverted for unload elsewhere, according to reports on protests led by pro-Palestinian interests.  

In this case, the port also asks for a judgment to include costs and attorney's fees, likewise "such other relief as the Court may deem proper." 

A hearing on the request for a temporary restraining order, according to the case docket, was originally scheduled for late September but subsequently was moved up to today, August 1, 2022, at 1:30 p.m. local time, at the Hayward Hall of Justice in Hayward, California.  

[Related: California just doesn't get it, or maybe doesn't care]

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