The hard-working men and women of the open road may be pleased to know that an independent trucker took his fight for fair wages all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and beat a Missouri trucking giant.
That unanimous Supreme Court win forced New Prime to settle a class-action lawsuit on behalf of truck drivers for full, fair compensation to the tune of $28 million. The victory now sets that plate for underpaid trucking professionals to get compensated for every hour they log, whether in-service hours or not. Supporting fair wage practices and truck driver opportunities that offer good salaries is the cornerstone to keep good moving across America.
What Truckers Need to Know About Oliveira v. New Prime
When New Prime refused to pay Dominic Oliveira and his fellow independent truckers for every hour they worked instead of miles logged, he filed suit that this practice was inherently unfair. Experienced truckers understand that road construction, traffic patterns, weather, and non-driving tasks can significantly reduce the miles versus hourly wage ratio.
For example, a 2016 DAT study indicates that truckers can spend more than three hours on average waiting for trailers to be unloaded and loaded. And low detention fees have been a bone of contention between CDL professionals and freight companies. If you are getting paid by the mile, such downtime undermines your efforts to increase take-home pay.
The major issue between truckers and New Prime was the corporation’s alleged misuse of an arbitration clause to settle disputes. CDL holders such as Oliveira felt that they were not reasonably compensated for the time when the wheels weren’t rolling. At issue in the Oliveira case were non-mileage requirements New Prime imposed but declined to compensate truck driving professionals.
“Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on March 4, 2015, alleging that Prime has failed to compensate its truck drivers as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act and, as to classroom orientation in Missouri, as required by the Missouri minimum wage laws and common law,” the lawsuit reportedly stated.
Under the standard set by the U.S. Department of Labor, “any work which an employee is required to perform while traveling must, of course, be counted as hours worked.”
Only after the high court sided with Oliveira, New Prime decided to settle the wage dispute with upwards of 40,000 mostly independent truck drivers. But a trend of fair wage lawsuits positions the Oliveira win and massive settlement as the cornerstone of a movement to improve truck driver salaries across the board.
“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,” truck driver employment attorney Justin Swidler reportedly said.
In California, a federal court ordered Walmart to compensate drivers for previously unpaid rest breaks. If the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision holds up, Walmart could be on the hook for upwards of $54.6 million in trucker backpay. What is almost ironic about the Walmart case is that the retailer earned a reputation for paying its 9,000-strong fleet drivers famously high wages.
“We continue to believe that our truck drivers are paid in compliance with California law and often in excess of what California law requires,” a Walmart spokesperson reportedly said. “We are proud that our drivers are among the best paid in the industry, earning, on average, between $80,000 to over $100,000 per year.”
In many cases, Walmart drivers are making approximately double the national average for CDL holders. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that heavy and tractor-trailer drivers earn a median of $45,260 per year and $21.76 per hour. Still, truck drivers are required to take a 30-minute break during work hours and cannot exceed 11 hours per day.
Why Oliveira Fair Wage Lawsuit Matters to Truck Drivers
It’s easy to shrug off Walmart drivers getting a bump in their already big take-home pays. But the vast majority of truck drivers earn a reliable annual salary after putting in hard work. Compensation for downtime, required orientation, truck inspections, mandated 30-minute breaks, and other non-driving tasks can certainly make a difference in paying the bills.
But what may be even more essential is the impact this legal trend could have on truckers at the lower end of the economic scale. Wins by Oliveira and the pushback on Walmart in California could very well have freight-hauling and logistics organizations ponying up now rather than face civil lawsuits.
“It could tip the scale in favor of the driver. For those that do potentially launch action against a trucking company, a precedent has been set already, and they could refer to this,” Logistics Trends & Insights president Cathy Roberson reportedly said. “In a way, it’s almost like a wake-up call.”
It’s vital for those considering a career as a CDL professional to understand this tends to be a pay-your-dues type of industry. Although newly-minted drivers can make good salaries right out of truck driver training school, wide-reaching factors can impact your weekly paycheck. These include the following.
- Mileage: Over-the-road (OTR) drivers typically bring home excellent salaries even when working at a cent-per-mile rate. Owner-operators can negotiate rates and often top $100,000 annually. Local positions under these same conditions may not deliver top-tier incomes and may be considered steppingstone jobs.
- Local Routes: Truckers that opt for local positions are often at the lower end of the income scale. Veteran drivers who have already banked big annual money often fill these positions in order to go home from work each night. Local trucking jobs are also excellent opportunities for newer drivers to gain experience before applying for big-money positions.
- Location: Where you start your truck driving career will have an impact on income. Some states offer higher wages than others. It’s essential to consider applying for jobs in high-paying areas.
- Endorsements: While there is more expense, time, and effort associated with obtaining CDL endorsements, truck drivers who have the ability to haul more specialized freight do command a higher wage to compensate for the added risk and responsibility.
Truck drivers working in low-wage economies or for trucking companies that are notoriously poor payers may be positively affected by the Oliveira and other pro-trucker court decisions. For instance, an Arkansas court ruled that drivers must be paid at least minimum wage for every hour they are not sleeping. That meant one corporation had to compensate truckers for 16 hours per day. In Nebraska, student drivers won a case for fair compensation, and major carriers have been forced to pay back wages into the millions.
The important takeaway from Oliveira and judges who support truck drivers is that wages will continue to rise for newly-minted CDL holders, as well as those at the top-end of the scale. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics notes that trucking industry wage growth is expected to be at least 5 percent annually, and nearly 100,000 drivers are expected to be needed to fill vacant truck driving jobs, creating huge opportunities for those in the trucking industry.