(Photo by rgaudet17/Pixabay)

Classifying truck drivers as independent contractors instead of as employees sets back climate change goals, according to a new study by a pro-labor group at UC Berkeley.

California needs cleaner commercial trucks to meet the state’s climate goals, but misclassification of truck drivers works against that goal, according to the study, which is titled, “Truck Driver Misclassification: Climate, Labor, and Environmental Justice Impacts.”

The report by the UC Berkeley Labor Center says classifying truck drivers as independent contractors rather than as employees puts the cost of cleaner trucks on drivers, who are those who can least afford it.

The study says trucker classification is important because vehicles, including commercial trucks, account for 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in California.

The report was written by Sam Appel, the California policy organizer at BlueGreen Alliance and Dr. Carol Zabin, the director of the Green Economy Program at the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

The study highlights the potential for win-win policies that can protect the climate, workers, and communities impacted by pollution.

Among the report’s findings are that since trucking deregulation in the 1980s, a destructively competitive market environment has forced companies to cut costs, including by reducing compensation to truck drivers.

The study says a high prevalence of truck driver misclassification is found in local freight trucking, local pickup and delivery and the long-haul trucking segments of the California trucking industry.

It says drivers that meet the legal standard to be classified as employees but are misclassified as independent contractors earn very low wages and must finance expensive vehicles with high-interest loans or high-cost leases to comply with clean vehicle rules.

The report finds that as a result of the capital barriers they face, the contractor segment of the trucking industry has the lowest compliance rates with California’s current clean vehicle regulations.

The study was released as the California State Senate considers Assembly Bill 5, which would ensure that California companies classify workers as employees and assume responsibility for the cost of equipment acquisition, financing, maintenance, and compliance.

“If we’re going to make the transition to electric and low-carbon trucks we need to do it equitably and efficiently — that’s not possible with misclassified contract truck drivers,” Appel said in a statement.

Appel said, “AB 5 can both protect California workers and accelerate our transition to a low-carbon transportation sector.”

Zabin said, “The evidence is clear: we need to solve the problem of misclassification in order to improve compliance with climate policies.”

Zabin said, “The costs of climate policies in the trucking sector can be absorbed if they are spread out among trucking firms, retailers and consumers, but not when they fall on the shoulders of low-income truck drivers.”

The Center for Labor Research and Education is a public service project of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UC Berkeley.