Promises and pitfalls
Owner-operators bilked out of thousands by Owner Operator Union

By Charlie Morasch, staff writer

Roy Donovan doesn’t look like a victim of the road.

Looking fit and wearing western wear, Donovan wears a black snap-down shirt with gold pinstripes that might have once belonged to Johnny Cash. His feathered gray hair and groomed sideburns complement his 40 years in trucking.

Minnie Donovan, Roy’s wife, has more than 30 years of truck driving experience herself, and exudes the confidence and independence of someone who has heard it all before.

Life members of OOIDA, the Donovans live in Hannibal, MO – boyhood home of legendary humorist Mark Twain. Along with Danny Donovan, Roy’s brother, the Donovan family is owed nearly $20,000 after being hoodwinked into restrictive lease deals with Owner Operator Union, a now defunct Illinois trucking company.

Their story may sound like a Twain essay, with details of hucksterism wrapped with attorneys, promises and the pitfalls of American capitalism. Unfortunately for Roy and Minnie, it’s all too real.

The Donovans are among nearly 20 known truckers who signed on with Owner Operator Union, yet received no pay.

The couple lost more than $11,000, and even after winning a judgment in court this spring, they’re not likely to ever see that money again. According to an OOIDA investigation, one operator of Owner Operator Union  has recently still been working in trucking.

Despite the slam-dunk civil suit, and their subsequent victory this spring in Cook County (IL) Circuit Court, the Donovans and other plaintiffs haven’t seen a dime, and may never do so.

An open and shut trucking shop
Roy Donovan still remembers the classified ad for “Owner Operator Union Inc.”

The company was leasing on experienced, qualified drivers to haul good loads for good money.

Visiting their headquarters in suburban Chicago, Donovan was so impressed he talked up the company to his brother, Danny.

The Donovans signed on with Owner Operator Union in October 2009. A man named Michael Bogan told them he didn’t own the company, but was operating it, along with out-of-town company president Robert Iozia.

The company gave its drivers a quick tour of the suburban Chicago office, including a dispatch room with one man and two women working, before urging them to sign the paperwork quickly.

A load was waiting.

In what seemed like only minutes, Owner Operator Union had sent the Donovans on their way, before Roy’s drug test had even produced results.

“We didn’t realize how illegal that was until later, but that’s highly illegal,” Roy told Land Line Magazine.

Before long, both Donovan brothers were getting antsy about their lack of a paycheck. After questions, Bogan told them they’d been assessed fines that negated their paychecks.

The Donovans and the other drivers quickly realized that Owner Operators Union used those company-imposed fines as a way to avoid paying a single dollar to its drivers.

The deductions had been spelled out in their lease agreement.

Drivers who signed a lease likely skimmed past page 12, which lists expensive fines created and defined by the company.

  • Placed out of service? $1,000 and termination.
  • Unauthorized load or movement? $5,000 each violation, no exceptions.
  • Turn down a load of $1.50 per mile or more? $500 and a verbal warning.

After several arguments, including one face-to-face meeting between Danny Donovan and Michael Bogan, Owner Operator Union stopped communicating with the Donovans altogether.

In their last conversations, Danny and Roy Donovan said Bogan told each of them to “go f%&# yourself.”

In final settlement sheets that negated all of Danny and Roy’s earnings, Bogan wrote a short note on the outside of each envelope. “G.F.Y.S.”

He later told a representative of the FMCSA regional office in Springfield, IL, that the initials meant “God forgives your sins.”

Is a win a win?
Matt Barrette is an attorney who specializes in transportation law out of his Oakbrook, IL, office. Working with OOIDA’s Dale Watkins, Barrette identified several owner-operators who had been bilked by Bogan, Iozia and Owner Operator Union.

He filed a civil suit in 2010, and won summary judgment for the Donovans and other plaintiffs earlier this year totaling more than $50,000.

Barrette acknowledged that the registration process with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration leaves many drivers vulnerable to fly-by-night companies.

“It’s unfortunate that there are companies out there that took advantage of drivers like this,” Barrette said. “They open up, bring guys on and just not pay them, then close up shop when the heat starts coming.”

The federal regulations are supposed to limit the ability of dishonest companies from preying on owner operators, Barrette said.

“The problem is … if they don’t care all they have to do is have a non-asset based company made up of owner-operators,” he said. “If the company can shut down and reopen somewhere else – that makes owner-operators susceptible to these types of operations. I don’t know of any amount of government regulation that is going to stop people from doing what these people did.”

Barrette said he doesn’t believe the trucking families will ever see their checks from Owner Operator Union or the defunct companies’ owners.

Neither Bogan nor Iozia returned phone messages left by Land Line.

A woman answered the phone at one Midwest motor carrier where Bogan had recently worked as a safety director.

After a deep sigh, she said, “He no longer works here.”

Red flags
Despite high pressure to sign leases, owner-operators should take all the time they need to read any lease or contract they sign with a motor carrier, said OOIDA’s Dale Watkins, who works at the Association’s Business Assistance Department.

OOIDA members can also call the association at 800-444-5791 for assistance in reviewing the lease before signing, he said.

“We’d be glad to look over any lease,” said Watkins.

When Roy and Minnie stopped at OOIDA headquarters in mid-July, their friendly smiles stopped when talking about their battle with Bogan, Iozia, and Owner Operator Union.

Minnie said Roy never should have signed the contract, and Roy nodded in agreement.

The Donovans know other veteran owner-operators will quickly point out the same, but they’re willing to face the finger-pointing if it means another trucking family might be spared.

“I hope it helps other truckers out,” he said.

Then Minnie and Roy hit the road.

A load was waiting. LL