A Missouri-based trucking company settled two separate class-action trucking lawsuits with its truck drivers after battling in the nation’s Supreme Court for years. According to the suits, up to 26,000 current and former drivers are eligible for a $28 million payout from the company, New Prime Inc. Each trucking lawsuit involved truck drivers for Prime who said they were not given a fair trucker pay rate. A trucking lawsuit filed by a driver named Dominic Oliveira made its way to the Supreme Court, which unanimously sided with the trucking professional, and highlights unfair trucker pay in the trucking industry.
The main issue that claimants in the lawsuits focused on has to do with a decades-old practice in the industry in which drivers are paid per mile, not on an hourly or annual basis. For some drivers, this means they are not even paid minimum wage in certain cases.
Truck drivers spend weeks out on the road for work and hours every day doing tasks that don’t put them behind the wheel, such as handling cargo or waiting at shipping docks. In fact, a 2016 survey details that nearly two-thirds (63%) of all drivers say they wait at least three hours every time they need to load or unload. This waiting time usually goes unpaid, which counters the U.S. Department of Labor’s regulation which states that any work which an employee is “required to perform while traveling must, of course, be counted as hours worked.”
Setting a Precedent for the Industry
The trucking lawsuit and its massive payout could set a new standard for truck drivers who say their companies aren’t paying fair wages. Something like this could in fact tip the scales in favor of trucking professionals who have been dealing with unfair pay throughout their careers.
America’s trucking industry, which sees revenues of nearly $800 billion annually, relies on owner-operators who own their trucks and may be contracted out with certain trucking companies. In fact, of the nearly two million drivers on America’s highways, about 400,000 of them are owner-operators. Prime, the company on the losing end of the trucking lawsuit, classifies its owner-operators as contractors, which means they are not privy to certain worker protections.
The Supreme Court, however, ruled in its unanimous opinion that Prime’s owner-operators were indeed employees. This lawsuit is one of many recent legal actions to highlight whether truck drivers deserve minimum wage for non-driving duties, such as waiting at loading docks.
A federal court in California slapped retail giant Walmart with a ruling declaring that it owed its drivers in the state nearly $55 million. The court said that Walmart violated the law when it didn’t pay truck drivers for rest breaks and other non-driving tasks. And in 2017, a Nebraska court said major trucking company Werner Enterprises was guilty of pay-practice violations and had to pay out $780,000 to 52,000 student truck drivers.
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