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Truck Drivers Get their Day in Court

In a surprise decision, the Supreme court unanimously ruled to limit arbitration agreements, giving workers their day in court

Brian Young's picture
Jan 16, 2019

In a surprising move, the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled in favor of workers. In the case of New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, the court ruled that workers in the transportation industry cannot be forced to waive their rights through private arbitration agreements.

The judges, in an 8-0 decision, found that independent contractors in the transportation industry are exempt from arbitration requirements. The case, which was filed by Dominic Oliveira against New Prime, a major trucking company. According to court filings when Oliveira was first hired, he was required to complete 10,000 miles of hauling freight for free, being classified as an “apprentice” and then another 30,000 miles as a “trainee” where he was only being paid $4 an hour. Once he became a full driver, he was misclassified as an independent contractor instead of as an employee. This meant that Oliveira was forced to incur all of the expenses like leasing his own truck and buying his equipment. Of course, all of this needed to be leased from a subsidiary company of New Prime.

When Oliveira and tens of thousands of other drivers began working with Justice for Port Drivers, a project of the Teamsters and community allies, they joined together to file a class action lawsuit. When the lawsuit was filed, New Prime attempted to force the case into arbitration, a process that is much friendlier to bosses. Oliveira appealed and the case worked its way up to the Supreme Court.

In the majority opinion, the court found that since truck drivers are involved in interstate or foreign commerce, they are exempted from the Federal Arbitration Act. While this is all very technical, what it boils down to is that hundreds of thousands of truck drivers and independent contractors who have to cross state lines for work will no longer be forced to submit to arbitration.

"This is a great victory for all workers in the transportation industry, including employees, legitimate independent contractors, and drivers misclassified as independent contractors who are suffering egregious wage theft," said Fred Potter, Teamsters International Vice President At Large and Director of the Teamsters Port Division. "Although we have consistently challenged employers' attempts to compel private arbitration to avoid a public legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling makes it clear that employers cannot and should not require drivers to waive their right to their day in court through binding arbitration agreements."

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