by René Tankersley, staff editor
Ledar Transport owner-operators get to keep their lease-purchase trucks and go to other companies, according to U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan Jr. for the U.S. District Court Western District of Missouri, Western Division.
Attorneys for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), Paul Cullen Sr. and Tom McCann, asked the court to find Ledar in contempt of court and to allow these drivers, who were "being held hostage" by Ledar, to take their trucks to other companies.
In its petition, OOIDA accused Ledar of attempting to circumvent the judge's Nov. 3 injunction order by pressuring lease-purchase owner-operators to sign a one-page employment contract, which made Ledar the trucks' owners and changed the owner-operators to company drivers.
The six owner-operators - Billy Eiland, East St. Louis, IL; Carter J. Williams, Junction City, KS; Melvin Gilcrease, Benton Harbor, MI; Corliss Taylor, San Antonio, TX; Elcee Ray and Ray Williams, both of Houston, TX, are buying their trucks through Ledar's lease-purchase program. The lease-purchase agreements required weekly payments of $600 to Ledar for the trucks and 7 to 9 cents per mile for a maintenance fund. The six were leased to Ledar Transport at the time the court issued an injunction (Nov. 3) enjoining Ledar from "performing any transportation ... in equipment it does not own" until the company has in place a court-approved lease agreement.
When any driver refused to sign the employment contract, Ledar threatened to take back the lease-purchase truck claiming the driver had no lease and therefore was violating the lease-purchase agreement.
On Nov. 14, the case was back before Judge Gaitan. Attorney Tom McCann, representing OOIDA and the six drivers, opened the hearing by explaining that Ledar played on the drivers' fear of losing their trucks, paychecks and escrow accounts to persuade drivers to sign the contract. As the "Ledar six" entered the courtroom, Carl Higgs of Ledar Transport looked at each man and began writing on a yellow pad. He then ripped the yellow page from its pad and slid it across the table to one of his attorneys. Higgs then sat with his back to the gallery for much of the hearing.
According to owner-operator Corliss Taylor, Ledar had said, "If you rescind, you will not be under a lease and you will be relieved of your truck because you don't have a lease." Because it was cold and raining sleet in Kansas City, Taylor signed the new contract, knowing his truck was his only way home to San Antonio. "I witnessed drivers being put out of their trucks on that very corner," Taylor said.
Ray Williams said Ledar withheld his three paychecks and his $8,000 maintenance fund contingent upon him signing the contract, which he did not sign.
Melvin Gilcrease had been leased to Ledar since August and had not yet received a paycheck. He refused to sign the new contract. Soon after, Gilcrease reported that his truck had disappeared from his residence early one morning. Gilcrease says that Ledar told him they did not have the truck but would help him find it if he signed the employment contract. Instead, he filed a police report and contacted the insurance company. Gilcrease's truck is still missing.
Carter Williams' truck sat in Ledar's maintenance shop for more than two weeks on a three-day repair job because he, too, refused to sign the contract. When he returned from the hearing on Nov. 14, maintenance employees had again torn down his truck engine to repair the oil leak they were supposed to fix two weeks earlier.
Elcee Ray, who had received one $4 paycheck since signing on with Ledar, signed the new contract in order to get his truck repaired at Ledar's maintenance shop.
After being with Ledar for eight months, Billy Eiland was told that if he did not sign the new contract he was "likely to be terminated."
"We do not believe the client is violating the court's order," Ledar's attorney told the judge. He explained that Ledar sent a Qualcomm message to their drivers as soon as the injunction order was confirmed on Nov. 7.
Case work continues
On Nov. 17, Judge Gaitan rejected Ledar's motion to approve its new lease.
"After reviewing the proposed lease and plaintiffs' opposition, the Court finds that certain terms of the proposed lease conflict with the truth-in-leasing regulations and that certain required terms are missing from the proposed lease," the order stated.
On Dec. 6, the judge deferred ruling on a second proposed lease and appointed a "special master," Judge William Mauer, to arbitrate a new lease before any action will be taken on the pending decisions regarding maintenance funds, payment grace period and supplemental relief. The parties conferred and submitted a new lease Jan. 5 to be reviewed by Judge Mauer.
To explain the employment contract, Ledar's attorney cited paragraph two of the injunction order, which says:
"For each equipment lessor to Defendant who is subject to any other lease, lease-purchase, or sales agreement between such lessor and Defendant, its officers, directors, shareholders, owners, employees, agents, corporate subsidiaries, corporate parents and/or corporate affiliates, such other agreement may be rescinded in its entirety at the option of such lessor, free of any penalty or further obligation upon such lessor. Defendant shall notify all such lessors of this provision in writing upon the issuance of this injunction."
Judge Gaitan clarified his intention by explaining that it was the lease-purchase driver's option, "not Ledar's option," to rescind the lease-purchase agreement. He added that these drivers could lease their trucks to another company and continue their lease-purchase agreements with Ledar. Additionally, the judge nullified the new employment contract.
When Judge Gaitan agreed to allow these drivers to take their trucks to other companies, Taylor's eyes welled up with unshed tears as he quietly whispered, "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus." Later, outside the courtroom, Taylor said he would finally be able to sleep at night, knowing he would not lose his truck.