Many discuss ways to reach your full potential. Well, I am already there and living the California dream. What it took to get here was working for myself as an independent contractor. Now, the career I’ve built seems to be falling apart.
Thirty years ago, I was working as an employee for a trucking company, feeling stalled and unable to move up. I had a lifestyle in mind for me and my family, but I couldn’t reach it working as an employee in the trucking industry in California.
After four years as an employee, I took a risk and bought a new truck — one I could call my own — and became the owner-operator of Katakis Trucking. It took what seemed like ages to be able to obtain the necessary certifications.
I knew I had to work very hard to successfully work on my terms. I worked to achieve not only the goals I set when coming to this country, but the California dream for my family. The hardship proved worth it as I am now an established owner-operator. Well, for now, that is.
Now, all of it is at risk. Last year, in what has become known as the Dynamex decision, the California Supreme Court changed the definition of an independent contractor. It named three factors, called the ABC test, to determine if a worker qualifies as an independent contractor rather than an employee. It’s a radical change from the definition I have been working under for the last three decades as an independent contractor.
An independent contractor must A) be free from the employer’s control and direction in connection with the performance of work; B) perform work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and C) customarily engage in an independently established trade, occupation or business of the same nature as the work performed.
It is part B that independent truck owner-operators like me are worried about. Up until last year’s Dynamex decision, we were able to contract with trucking companies not as employees, but as independent contractors. We decided which companies and how many companies we wanted to work with. But, under Dynamex, I will be forced to be employed by just one company.
If legislators don’t fix Dynamex, people like me will be significantly hurt and our livelihoods will be at risk.
Politicians who have never worked in trucking claim that working for someone else is better for me. They are wrong because, as an independent contractor, I make about $100 per hour, but would only make $32 per hour being someone’s employee. That change would leave me with almost nothing to live on in California. I wouldn’t be able to afford my house or car, or support my family.
Forcing me to work for someone else wouldn’t play any part in solving the problem of exploited workers. As an independent contractor, you have the choice to refuse or accept certain jobs and control your work environment.
It’s unfair. I have given time and money to become certified as a California owner-operator. I pay highway taxes and have spent over $200,000 on upkeep costs and certification renewals. I’ve done all of this only to be shut down by the very system I am trying hard to work with.
It’s not my dream to work under someone else. California built this state on the success of small businesses and dedicated workers like me. I am trying to follow that example.
Legislators must clarify the law so that those who choose to work as law-abiding independent contractors are not punished because of those who abuse the law by misclassifying or exploiting their workers.
Dimitrios Katakis is an independent contractor and owner of Katakis Trucking. He lives in Palo Alto with his family.
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