Truckers give tales of woe as terminal shuts down

| Monday, August 05, 2002

July 29, 2002, Dyersburg, TN --The Coldiron truck terminal south of Dyersburg was all but deserted Friday morning, the building locked, the parking lot empty and only a handful of rigs and drivers remained under the work awning in the back. The previous afternoon the terminal was a chaotic scene as a half dozen sheriff's deputies served civil papers on the owner Freddie Ford of Dyersburg while an angry crowd of truckers milled about, demanding thousands of dollars in unpaid wages.

One driver, Tim Knight of Alamosa, CO, had been stranded there since last Sunday with his wife and two children, waiting for a company rig and two weeks worth of back pay. Sometime late Thursday evening, he and about 30 other owner-operators who had hauled freight for the local terminal received at least a portion of the money due them and got back on the road. In the uncertain world of long-haul trucking, there are few experienced owner-operators who haven't had to cut their losses and hit the road.

"You can make a good living if you don't get cheated or jerked around," said Calvin Givens of Covington, VA., an owner-operator with 11 years of road experience. He was one of the few men who stayed behind, even after company officials for Coldiron Specialized Trucking of St. Louis and Transportation Alliance Bank (TAB), of Utah, changed the locks on the terminal doors and shut the place down indefinitely. Givens claimed he was also one of the last drivers to get at least a portion of his money the previous night. He said a check was cut for him at about 9:30 p.m.. So far as he knew, every owner-operator present received a check for at least some of their mileage and expenses.

For the company drivers, however, it was another matter. They were supposed to be paid at 9 a.m. Friday morning. Unfortunately, when they arrived, the doors were bolted and the lights turned off. They had no option but go home and wait.

Alan Marbry of Gates, a company driver, said he stayed until about 7 p.m. Thursday. "They said we would get paid today. I am owed $989, about $600 from last week." He said that he received only a partial payment of wages the previous week, about $125. His brother, Steve Marbry of Ripley, claimed that he was owed about $1,200.

"I have a wife and two kids to take care of, and a truck payment to make," he complained bitterly. Givens described a tense, frustrating week in which drivers were regaled with stories about missing documents and promises that never came true. Givens explained when owner-operators contract with carriers, they are obligated to exclusively haul their freight.

"We can't pull any other load without approval from them.That gives the company enormous leverage over the drivers."

As trouble erupted between local company officers, Coldiron executives and TAB financial officers, Givens said that he was told that "we had to drive with Air-Ride, Inc., of Swanton, O, or hit the street. That was all said Wednesday afternoon."

So, he put an Air-Ride decal on the side of his door and waited for the issue of his back wages to be resolved. "I finally got paid because I called St. Louis and spoke to the owners, Mark and Mike Weeks, last weekend. I asked them why I hadn't got my wages, and they said they didn't have a settlement sheet."

A settlement sheet is a document that gives pertinent information regarding a particular driver's run, such as mileage covered, cost of fuel and any other related expenses or charges. This is used to calculate the amount of a trucker's check. Givens said he was told these documents were supposed to be produced by the office in Dyersburg, but were never given to TAB.

"I have had four paydays and five pay weeks here, and I have yet to see a settlement sheet," Givens said. When a TAB banking officer arrived on Thursday, Givens cornered him and asked for money. In turn the bank officer complained that he lacked a settlement sheet and finally had to ask the Virginia trucker how much he thought he was owed. "I said maybe $1,200 to $1,300. He gave me $1,000 and a little extra for waiting around and watching the trailers," Givens said. "I have no problem with Coldiron or TAB bank. Those people gave me my money based on my word. They had no settlement sheets. They just trusted what I told them was true. I didn't know I had a choice of continuing to work for Coldiron. I am peeling off these decals for Air-Ride, and I am going to put on the Coldiron logo."

He explained that most drivers were unaware they had the option of staying with the Coldiron company when local terminal personnel told them they must sign contracts with Air-Ride or leave. In another odd turn of events, Givens claimed to be one of several truckers hired to repossess 11 diesel fleet rigs for Coldiron. They were discovered in a pasture surrounded by thick woods between Four Points and Halls. Givens said they were being hidden from Coldiron and TAB, which Thursday filed a $7 million lawsuit against Ford. "When we were driving the trucks out of there, the limbs were hitting the cabs," he said. The trucks and several trailers were moved to a large Coldiron lot near Halls.

As Givens peeled an Air-Ride decal from the door of his truck and replaced it with a logo for Coldiron, he expressed relief that the ordeal was nearly over for him, and he would soon be going home for a few days of well-earned rest. He angrily announced that in the future he would "refuse to work for anybody associated with the Dyersburg terminal."
By John Leeper
Reprinted with permission of State Gazette, Dyersburg, TN

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