OOIDA files amicus brief to High Court in support of truck driver's case against Prime

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line associate editor | 7/26/2018

Editor's note: This article has been modified for clarity.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a truck driver who contends that the Federal Arbitration Act does not apply to transportation workers.

OOIDA filed the brief on July 25 in support of truck driver Dominic Oliveira as part of the Supreme Court case between Springfield, Mo.-based trucking company New Prime Inc., and Oliveira. The case will decide whether labor disputes brought by owner-operators leased to motor carriers on a long-term basis in the trucking industry are exempt from arbitration. 

Previously, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit determined that the applicability of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) is a threshold question for the court to determine before compelling arbitration under the Act. The court also ruled that the exemption did apply to owner-operators leased to motor carriers. Prime petitioned the ruling to the Supreme Court, saying the First Circuit’s decision would deprive both companies and workers in the transportation industry of the benefits of the FAA.

How the Supreme Court decides in this case could have a large impact on the trucking industry.

OOIDA, the National Employment Law Project, the American Association for Justice, and Public Citizen, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Constitutional Accountability Center, and the Teamsters all filed briefs in support of Oliveira. 

“This whole discussion kind of gets back to the core of why OOIDA was formed, and that was the extreme disadvantage that owner-operators had when trying to do business with virtually every other player in trucking,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer said. “The ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission) leasing rules were really the first big victory for OOIDA. Those rules were created because the ICC understood that owner-operators leased to motor carriers were at a severe disadvantage. The ICC recognized that there needed to be some rules.

“When ICC went away, the rules didn’t go away. Congress looked at the issue and said the rules stay and that individuals need to have the right to pursue compliance of those rules in the courts. Carriers don’t get to redefine those rules through their contracts. The rules are the rules.”

In 2013, Oliveira entered into New Prime’s truck driver apprenticeship program, where drivers must attend a four-day orientation, and log 10,000 unpaid miles as a driver or passenger. After completing the supervised driving period, court documents said the student driver must take the examination for a commercial driver’s license and then drive 30,000 more miles as a B2 company driver trainee. B2 trainees were paid 14 cents per mile. After finishing the program, Oliveira became an independent contractor.

According to Oliveira’s response brief, Success Leasing, which is a separate company from Prime but located in the same building, leased Oliveira a truck and then directed him to Prime’s company store to purchase fuel and equipment for about $5,000. 

Oliveira said Success presented him his employment paperwork labeled as Prime Independent Contractor Operating Agreement.

According to Oliveira, Prime paid him less than minimum wage and that deductions for fuel and lease payments on the truck occasionally left him owing money at the end of a pay period.

In 2015, Oliveira filed a class action against New Prime, alleging that the trucking company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as the Missouri minimum-wage statute. New Prime moved to compel arbitration under the FAA. 

“The Congress and federal agencies’ historical oversight and regulation of motor carrier/owner-operator contracts and their provision of different procedures and forums to resolve disputes under those contracts demonstrate precisely the type of contract for employment of persons engaged in interstate commerce that Congress intended to exempt from the FAA,” OOIDA wrote.

“A definitive finding by this Court that motor carrier/owner-operator contracts are not exempted from the FAA would erect such a burden that it would effectively defeat an owner-operator’s ability to enforce his or her rights, and therefore frustrate the public policy choices of Congress and the regulating agencies.” 

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