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Truck driver class actions spreading

While my trucking litigation practice focuses largely on representation of individuals and families in personal injury and wrongful death cases arising from trucking accidents, a lot of those are truckers hurt in wrecks with other trucks. I’m working on several of those now.

Truck driving is hard, dangerous and underpaid work under difficult conditions. Too often the traditional “knight of the highway” becomes the “serf of the highway” when large trucking companies and shippers subject them to the “death of a thousand cuts” by shaving their pay, benefits and — for independent owner operators — their fuel allowances.

I haven’t yet heard it mentioned on the Road Dog Trucker channel (106) on SiriusSM satellite radio (of course, I switch between that and country music), but a new trend around the country is the truck driver class action, in which representatives of thousands of truckers working for large companies band together. Some examples:

– When Tulsa-based Arrow Trucking shut down without warning at Christmas 2009, its drivers were left stranded without pay, benefits or even a way to get home from wherever they were. A class action for 260 former Arrow drivers in bankruptcy court against the top officers of the company is producing a $2 million settlement according to an article this week in Land Line.

YRC Worldwide Inc. has agreed to pay $6.5 million to settle four class action lawsuits arising from the company’s practice of contributing company shares to match employees’ contributions to the 401(k) plan. When the company’s stock tanked, affected employees lost most of their retirements savings. YRC said the settlement, if accepted by the court, would be covered by its insurance company, according to an article in the Kansas City Star.

Schneider Logistics is being sued in a class action alleging wage and hour and working condition violations at a Wal-Mart distribution center it operates in California, according to this news report.

This reminds me of the successful class actions against Wal-Mart for denying workers rest and meal breaks, refusing to pay overtime, and manipulating time cards to lower employees’ pay. One of the tricks was to shave every employee’s hourly pay by an amount that likely would not be noticed by workers but added up to millions of dollars for the company. Those resulted in a $172 million jury verdict in California, a $78 million jury verdict in Pennsylvania, $6.5 million bench trial judgment in Minnesota, settlement of $640 million in 63 federal and state class-action wage-and-hour lawsuits, plus another $40 million settlement in Massachusetts.

“Little birdies” have been telling me that the same sort of abuses occur regularly in some large LTL trucking companies that pay drivers by the hour rather than by the mile. We are putting the team together to handle cases in this category for Georgia truckers if they arise. I can’t say which companies are guilty of this, but some of the largest LTL trucking lines in the US include:

– Con-way Freight
– FedEx Freight – YRC (Yellow-Roadway Corporation)
– ABF Freight System – Old Dominion Freight Line – UPS Freight
– Watkins Motor Lines – Southeastern Freight – Roadrunner – USF
Ken Shigley is an Atlanta-based trucking litigation attorney with 34 years trial and litigation experience. He currently serves as president of the 42,000 member State Bar of Georgia.