“What can I do?”
What kind of rights do you have as an owner-operator

I often get letters or e-mails from leased owner-operators that begin with accounts of unscrupulous exploitation by their companies, and end with, “Can they do that?”

Lately, however, my mail has taken a different direction. I read the same accounts of exploitation, but more often the question at the end is, “What can I do?”

I interpret this as a positive sign that leased owner-operators are focusing on their rights as professional truckers and small-business operators. No longer are they sitting back and waiting for someone else to solve their problems. Instead, they are interested in learning about their own rights and how they can use them to take more control over the way in which they operate their businesses.

In answer to the “What can I do?” questions, you need only to pull out your copy of the Federal Truth in Leasing Regulations and read each section to ferret out and discern your rights as a leased owner-operator.

Here are some examples:

You have a right to obtain a written copy of your lease agreement. It takes at least two parties to enter into an agreement, and this is a contract that you signed. You most certainly should receive a copy. Section 376.12 (l) states: An original and two copies of each lease shall be signed by the parties. The authorized carrier shall keep the original and shall place a copy of the lease on the equipment during the period of the lease unless a statement as provided for in §376.11(c) (2) is carried on the equipment instead. The owner of the equipment shall keep the other copy of the lease.

You have the right to request an accounting of your escrow account with your motor carrier. After all, it’s your money, so you should definitely know what transactions, if any, have occurred on this account. Section 376.12 (k) (4) states that the lease shall specify: The right of the lessor to demand to have an accounting for transactions involving the escrow fund at any time.

You cannot be required to purchase any products, equipment or services from a motor carrier. As long as it is specified within the lease, the carrier can require that you obtain various products, equipment and services, but you are free to obtain them from the market of your choice. Section 376.12 (i) states: The lease shall specify that the lessor is not required to purchase or rent any products, equipment, or services from the authorized carrier as a condition of entering into the lease arrangement.

You have the right to a clear statement in the lease of the basis upon which you will be compensated as well as the right to be paid that amount. Whether you are paid on a percentage basis, or flat rate per mile, you get to know what the load pays before you make the trip. And you still get paid even if the shipper is late with payment to your carrier. Section 376.12 (d): The amount to be paid by the authorized carrier for equipment and driver’s services shall be clearly stated on the face of the lease or in an addendum which is attached to the lease; and in (f): The lease shall specify that payment to the lessor shall be made within 15 days after submission of the necessary delivery documents and other paperwork concerning a trip in the service of the authorized carrier.

As you can see, these are some pretty important owner-operator rights, which help to answer the “What can I do?” questions. Keep in mind that this is only a small portion of the leased owner-operator rights that you’ll find within the leasing regulations, so be sure to get a copy and review this document thoroughly. You can find the leasing regulations on the OOIDA Web site at www.ooida.com/Education&BusinessTools/Resources/documents/lease_regs91699.pdf or simply ask an operator to send you a copy when you call us at 800-444-5791. 

It’s also important to remember that you have the right to bring a case in court for damages and injunctive relief to enforce your rights under the federal leasing regulations. When Congress decided to terminate the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), OOIDA fought to convince lawmakers to retain the truth in leasing regulations, and to include a private right-of-action provision within the legislation as well. This is clearly an important benefit to all professional drivers.

Although many of your rights are found within the leasing regulations, this is not your only source.

For example, most of us already know that we have the right to a copy of our credit report, but did you know that you are entitled to request disclosure of the contents of your employment history (aka DAC) file? You also have the right to dispute the accuracy of the information contained in your file.

These rights are available to you via the Fair Credit Reporting Act and its amendments. Visit http://www.usis.com/Consumers/default.aspx for information on ordering a copy of your report or filing a dispute, or send a letter to Pre-employment & Drug Screening Services; Attn: Consumers Department; 4500 S. 129th E. Ave., Suite 200; Tulsa, OK 74134-5885.

These are just a few examples of your rights. It’s encouraging that professional truckers are choosing to learn about their rights so they can defend and preserve them, as opposed to allowing themselves to be abused and exploited simply because of a lack of awareness. The spirit of the professional truck driver is obviously alive and well. LL


If you have questions about doing business as an owner-operator and/or an independent trucker, please e-mail them to donna_ryun@ooida.com or send them to P.O. Box 1000, Grain Valley, MO 64029. We can’t publish all of your questions in Land Line, but you will receive a response, even if your letter is not published.