Driving a truck used to mean freedom.
Now, it means a mountain of debt.
There are few things more distinctly American than the open road. The seemingly endless highways that crisscross the country beckon to the adventurous spirit of many Americans, whether it’s in an RV during their retirement years, a coming-of-age college road trip, or a trucker trying to make a living for their family and future.
For thousands of ambitious men and women, becoming a trucker was traditionally a way to avoid an office job while planting them solidly in the middle class. It was a win-win for those aspiring to stable careers and those disenchanted with cubicles. It was freedom, both financial and personal.
Despite the integral nature of trucking to the American way of life, the narrative of it being a career that provides both freedom and financial stability has changed drastically in recent years. No longer is life as a trucker, a career already associated with endurance and toughness, a viable option for those seeking reliable income and fair treatment.
This shift can be traced to the methods by which the drivers get paid, specifically when a trucker signs a lease operator agreement.
Lease Operator Agreements
Many drivers dream of owning their own truck. After all, what is a trucker without a truck? The vehicle itself is an integral piece of a successful career as a driver. In theory, owning your own truck creates more employment opportunities, gives you a tangible asset, and increasing the amount of money you pocket for each mile you drive.
There’s just one small issue—trucks are expensive. The majority of drivers cannot afford to buy their own trucks, especially toward the beginning of their careers. This leaves them with the two most common options provided by trucking companies—become a company driver or a lease operator. The distinction between these two payment options and career paths is quite stark.
The first option, becoming a company driver, essentially makes you an employee of the trucking business. As such, you do not own the truck you drive, and you are paid a standard amount per mile that you drive—say 37 cents for the sake of comparison.
The second option, signing a lease operator agreement, appears to be the far superior option on the surface. Essentially, you start your own business, own your own truck, and get paid more per mile—say 72 cents. The tradeoff is that you bear more of the risk associated with the job, such as owning the truck and operating your own business.
In theory, being a lease operator is the better long-term option. It sets you up to own a valuable asset in the form of your truck, gives you the flexibility that comes with owning your own business, and pays more per mile. However, as too many drivers have learned the hard way, not all that glitters is gold.
The Darkside of the Industry
In the trucking industry, only one thing matters—money. It’s hard to establish your business as more professional, having better customer service, or being a more desirable brand than any other trucking business because clients only care about one thing—receiving their products in the least expensive manner possible.
This has led to an increasingly competitive market where it is exceptionally difficult for a trucking business to turn a profit. Cuts have to be made in order for any money to be made, and the drivers bear the brunt of the financial burden. Rather than allowing their business to take a hit, trucking companies simply pass the buck to their drivers.
One way that they do this is through lease operator agreements. While these agreements sound like a great way to set a driver up for future success, they actually plunge them into significant debt. Not only does a trucker who signs a lease operator agreement now owe their employer for the balance of the truck, but they also must pay them interest on that balance, go through them for insurance, use a company account for gas purchases, and agree to only drive for that particular company.
This arrangement often means that drivers will be on the road for around 70 hours a week and end up paying the trucking company instead of receiving a paycheck. In other words, drivers are working long, hard hours only to see their bank balance decrease rather than increase. This makes it nearly impossible to make a living wage, let alone provide for a family.
Not only does this create a financial quandary for drivers, but it also traps them in a painful cycle. Because the company owns the truck, pays for the training, and otherwise has all the leverage, many drivers feel trapped and unable to leave—doing so would risk losing any progress they’ve made toward paying off their truck. If a driver does leave, the company will keep the truck and any payments the driver has made up to that point.
Even if a driver had only one week remaining on their five-year lease, they could lose everything by simply getting sick, missing a payment, or getting fired.
Because the game is rigged and the trucking companies have all the leverage, hundreds if not thousands of drivers have fallen victim to this trap. This has led to an uphill legal battle to rectify the imbalance. Several lawsuits have been filed and won, but drivers are receiving pennies on the dollar for the abuse and sacrifice they endured.
There is hope, though, as more of these cases come to light. As the issue remains in the public eye, real changes are possible.
If you have experienced a similar situation where a trucking company has taken advantage of you and exploited your service, you could very well have a legitimate legal case; you just need to connect with the right professionals to guide you through the process.
The team at Butler Law truly cares for you and your plight. Contact us today through our website or by phone at 678-940-1444 to discuss your situation and possible solutions.