A federal judge ruled against Swift Transportation Co. determining that five drivers classified as independent contractors should have been considered employees of the giant carrier.

The plaintiffs claimed in the case that due to the misclassification Swift failed to pay them all the wages required by federal and state wage and hour laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The drivers considered themselves to be employees because Swift controlled every aspect of their work schedules – from where and how the plaintiffs delivered freight to which routes the truckers had to use.

Swift also controlled the equipment the truckers used, including the maintenance and condition of the trucks, the lawsuit said.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge John W. Sedwick ruled on Jan. 5 that the contractor agreements the drivers signed were employment contracts, making them employees.

The plaintiffs’ attorney Dan Getman said the judge’s ruling over the misclassification question as “significant for the drivers.”

“It has taken us a while to get here, but fundamentally all of the pieces are falling into place,” Getman said. “Now we must determine how much more the company wants to fight or pay what they owe the drivers.”

Getman said he did not know if Swift will appeal the judge’s decision.

Swift did not respond to a Trucks.com request for comment about the case.

Upon hire, the plaintiffs were forced to sign employment and lease contracts before going to work for the Phoenix, Ariz.-based trucking giant, owned by Jerry Moyes. Swift employs more than 16,000 drivers and is the largest common carrier in the U.S.

“I think that Swift will be under significant pressure to settle these claims,” Getman told Trucks.com. “It’s time for them to face the music – the cost of continuing the case is likely to outweigh any financial benefit to Swift.”

The case has bounced around in the courts for more than nine years after it was originally filed in U.S. District Court in New York in 2009. However, Swift filed a petition to have the case transferred to the U.S. District Court in Arizona, near the trucking company’s headquarters in Phoenix. A judge granted the move.

The next phase in the collective and class action cases will be discovery “to determine how many thousands of drivers, dating back to 2006 or 2007, have allegedly have been misclassified by Swift.”

Since deregulation in the 1980s, Getman said there has been a trend by motor carriers to switch their fleets mainly over to independent contractors. This practice allowed trucking companies to push all financial risk onto the drivers by having them lease the equipment to reap record profits.

“This has become a common practice for trucking companies that misclassify its drivers to undercut their competition in the industry that properly classifies its drivers and pays them legitimately,” Getman said.

Misclassified drivers are starting to push back.

Recently, a major decision was reached in the Central Refrigerated Service of West Valley City, Utah, class action lawsuit, which is also owned by Moyes.

In late October, an arbitrator ruled that lease operators for Central Refrigerated are employees as a matter of law and not independent contractors.

“To put it simply, the drivers are covered by the federal minimum wage laws and should have been paid the minimum wage for every hour they worked,” Getman said of the ruling.

During discovery, Getman said the number of drivers that actually received a truck at the end of their lease contracts was “virtually nil.”

Alleged misclassification of drivers has also become a significant issue among port companies in California.

Since 2011, California truckers have filed more than 800 wage claims alleging they have been misclassified as independent contractors and as such were denied benefits owed to employees.

California port drayage companies have paid tens of millions of dollars to drivers who have won more than 300 cases. There are still around 199 driver wage claims pending, according to the Department of Industrial Relations.

A state legislator was successful in passing legislation in California – the Motor Carrier Amnesty Program. The amnesty deal, which ended on Dec. 31, would have allowed carriers to pay back wages to misclassified drivers and change their work status from independent contractors to employees. In return, the trucking companies would be relieved of any liability that may result in fines and other penalties.

Just four companies originally signed up for the program, but two companies dropped their applications ahead of the deadline.

About The Author

Clarissa Hawes

Clarissa Hawes is a Trucks.com staff writer who covers trucking and freight. She is an award-winning journalist with over 10 years of experience covering the trucking industry. She can be found on Twitter: @cage_writer.

16 Responses

  1. Mike

    Why hasnt any law firm subpoenad the employment records or sent out class action notices to possibly affected drivers? Seems like this is a class action suit, but only effecting the original. Drivers that filed

    Reply
    • william madrigal

      It is open to all Swift drivers that leased a truck with them.they just need to go to getmansweeny website and sign on case.

      Reply
      • Amy

        I’m sorry to see so stupid but what exactly does this mean for a current owner operator?

  2. Ernesto Nevarez

    The US Tax Court has also ruled that such truck drivers are also employees for IRS purposes but the companies get sec. 530 amnesty. The problem is the wage credits at the Social Security Administration which still have to be given to the worker and in this situation is defined as the full 1099 amount. We’re talking billions! Several cases are pending at the Appeals Board in Baltimore. For more info check out the files at the FB group Port of Aztlan or contact me.

    Reply
  3. James Davis

    drivers were forced to do this ,since when has anyone ever been forced to do anything ,when it comes to a job?

    Reply
    • ether bawny

      life forced em..not a gun..but genuine human needs to pay bills and feed families and attempt to pull themselves up from the often financial straits they were in. They were sold a LIE. and they believed it because they wanted to believe because they should be able too believe. But because we dont give a damn anymore we let companies like this fester and grow and rot our society. We look away when they commit a crime as long as WE didnt get taken in. The idea is if your ignorant then you should be robbed and cheated and ripped off. Thats its in a nutshell. There are now so many millions of those Me’s that think this way and do nothing and stand up for nothing and nobody. We scorn the suckers who were taken in and think it served em right for believing a lie. A lie that said..We are a decent company with fair principals and responsible actions. There used to be a time when you saw these claims you could pretty much count on them being practiced. Not anymore. Now we flamboyantly advertise incredible claims of good intentions and the renege on all of them then laugh as we run to the bank loading up our accounts scoffing at the well intentions of people and how stupid they are for believing and falling prey to a deception. No they were not forced. They were merely suckers for believing in what we should be able to believe in..Human decency. You wont be forced but you will eventually fall victim. Some day you will rely on the honesty of another and they will deceive you and it could cost you your life. Because we dont care and we are blind to see how the deceptions are eeking up in every industry. Down to the very vital things we need to live. Our foods medicines and staples of life are being corrupted. Sure you arent forced to eat the stuff..You arent forced to take the medicines. You arent forced into anything but if you dont indulge you probably wont live very long. Unless you manage to become a surgeon, and other medical expertise. Oh and you should be a lawyer too. A plumber as well. A mortgage expert. A mechanic and i could take this list and fill hundred pages. But see every damn
      one of those experts now are as apt to lie to you in the same exact fashion this company lied to its drivers. Eventually you will be taken just like every other sucker. Because we just dont give a damn anymore. One day you will be forced when we stopped giving a damn just enough that our society turns savage and the only way to survive is lie and cheat and rob each other. You see the reason we have laws and principles. Its so we dont return to that state of being as a race of humans. Where we use force to get our gains. We created a society of fair trade for services and goods and put forth laws to protect these agreements and when they are breached then we must act and correct it unless we want our futures destroyed. Nobody is ever forced into a lot of situations but we fall victim because we still believe in responsible good and honorable intentions. We rely on them. Its an unnecessary exaggerated explanation for something so simple to see if we just think just a teensy bit.

      Reply
  4. Derron Lewis

    Thank you it’s about time something got done ,i was one of the driver who lest a truck an DC going home without pay after being out for 8 days going home with a-$800

    Reply
  5. Bubba Johnson

    This is a typical Big Government and Union agenda. Both want everyone to be an employee. The Unions can’t organize Owner Operators, and therefore can’t steal union dues from their paychecks each week for “representation”. Similarly, the Government doesn’t get to collect as many taxes as they do from employees. This would include state, federal, social security, unemployment, etc. Unfortunately the vast majority of Owner Operators are happy being independent and appreciate the chance to grow their own business. No one held a gun to their head to lease on to the carrier, or lease a tractor from them. Another west coast ruling from the courts….

    Reply

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