- Contract truckers, also called owner-operators, scored a major win in the Supreme Court Tuesday.
- In an 8 to 0 opinion, the nation’s highest court ruled that Springfield, Missouri-based trucking company New Prime Inc. cannot force its employee, owner-operator Dominic Oliveira, to settle disputes through arbitration.
- Settling disputes through arbitration, rather than in court, is usually more beneficial to employers than to employees.
Contract truckers scored a major win Tuesday when the Supreme Court sided with them on an employment-law issue.
In an 8 to 0 opinion, the nation’s highest court ruled that Springfield, Missouri-based trucking company New Prime Inc. cannot force its employee, owner-operator Dominic Oliveira, to settle disputes through arbitration.
Oliveira’s contract says all disputes need to be settled through private arbitration. And the Federal Arbitration Act requires courts to enforce those arbitration agreements – even though many scholars say arbitration benefits the company while harming workers.
But the arbitration law has a major loophole: Transportation workers are excluded from it.
Oliveira was labelled as a contract driver with New Prime. These contract drivers are more commonly called owner-operators in the trucking world, and they total 350,000 nationwide.
The conflict between Oliveira and Prime started when Oliveira sued New Prime in a class-action suit for not paying minimum wage. As Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in his opinion (emphasis added):
In a class action lawsuit in federal court, Mr. Oliveira argued that New Prime denies its drivers lawful wages. The company may call its drivers independent contractors. But, Mr. Oliveira alleged, in reality New Prime treats them as employees and fails to pay the statutorily due minimum wage. In response to Mr. Oliveira’s complaint, New Prime asked the court to invoke its statutory authority under the Act and compel arbitration according to the terms found in the parties’ agreements.
The ruling is a win for drivers, as well as independent workers nationwide, because it allows them to settle disputes in court. Private arbitration usually prevents the worker from publicly releasing details of the case, and it nixes one’s right to an appeal. A trial by jury also includes more voices than a resolution by a single arbitrator.
“Considering the continuing efforts of mega-carriers to thwart the rights of drivers, the decision is an important one for protecting the rights of interstate drivers to have their claims heard publicly and in a collective fashion,” Justin Swidler, an employment law attorney who often represents truck drivers, told Business Insider.
Additionally, it pushes the boundaries on a question that’s been plaguing America’s courts in recent years – whether truck drivers deserve minimum wage for nondriving duties. Oliveira’s class-action case alleged that he and his colleagues were deprived of fair wages.
A federal court in Arkansas decided in a class-action suit in October 2018 that drivers should be paid for every hour truckers spend in their trucks while not sleeping – 16 hours a day of at least minimum-wage pay.
It’s a move that speaks to other court cases appearing around the country in favour of ensuring truck drivers are paid for every hour they spend on the road.
In 2017, a Nebraska court decided that trucking giant Werner Enterprises must pay $US780,000 to 52,000 student truck drivers after being accused of pay-practice violations. Another major carrier, C.R. England, paid $US2.35 million in back wages to more than 6,000 drivers in 2016.
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