Attorneys urge truckers to weigh concerns before joining vaccine protests

March 1, 2022

Ryan Witkowski

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Multiple convoys are headed to Washington, D.C., to protest vaccine and mask mandates. As truckers weigh the pros and cons of joining one of these convoys, there may be professional repercussions to consider.

The First Amendment protects the right to assemble and voice opinions through protest. Convoy organizers claim they are planning to protest peacefully. However, when large crowds gather things can often become unpredictable. Jeff McConnell, an attorney with trucking-focused law firm Road Law, says that truckers need to be aware of the situation they’re getting into.

“The difference between a peaceful protest and something that is determined legally not to be the peaceful first amendment protest, that’s where you’re going to get in trouble,” McConnell told Land Line Now. “That’s where you may be issued a criminal misdemeanor citation, you may be arrested, or have your equipment impounded. How much trouble do you want to go to and go through, and not just for the apparent time now but in the future, for your livelihood and those that depend on you.”

According to James Mennella, another attorney with Road Law, law enforcement typically turns to arrests as a last resort to control crowds. Mennella says that how you handle that encounter could go a long way in determining whether or not you are charged with a crime.

“A lot of times when they detain people or protestors at these events, they’re just trying to work on crowd disbursement. Getting the protest broken up,” Mennella said. “So, if you don’t respond too aggressively and cause a situation to get worse, there is the remote possibility that maybe you’re going to get detained and released and not charged with anything. If you tend to escalate it, then you’re probably going to get charged with something.”

Concerns for leased drivers

For truckers who don’t operate their own company, protests can be a slippery slope. While protesting allows for your voice to be heard, the company you represent may not feel the same way. Mennella says those drivers may want to consider their company’s standards for conduct before joining a convoy.

“Depending on what it says on the side of your truck, if you happen to work for a major carrier and it’s not your own company on the side of your truck, you’re a company driver, or you’re leased on to somebody and has the corporate corporation’s name on the truck. There may be something buried in the corporate policy handbook about what’s acceptable conduct standards,” Mennella said.

Additionally, drivers who are leased on to a company need to be aware of how their employer may feel about any media attention. Mennella says knowing this may be the difference in maintaining your employment with the company.

“Rather than a driving record problem, what we’re looking at is an employability problem, because certainly the corporation may or may not agree with what is going on,” Mennella said. “If the company name is out there and that’s what’s on CNN or that’s what’s on MSNBC or whatever news stations carrying it, they may not be too happy about that exposure.”

Concerns with insurance

Property damage can be a concern when peaceful protests escalate. Trina Skywalker, an agent with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s Truck Insurance Department, cautions drivers that they could be left to foot the bill for repairs.

“Well, the biggest thing that comes to mind for anyone in insurance is knowing that insurance policies generally exclude damage that results from acts of war, terrorism, riots, you know, things of that nature,” Skywalker said. “The policies are basically going to exclude loss or damage caused by – it’s not always just war and terrorism and riots – they go down to labor disturbances, civil commotions. If you turn in a claim from this event, and your insurance company can link it under one of these categories, they very well could say they’re not paying to fix your truck.”

Skywalker says that while it may be an extreme measure, insurance companies could cancel your coverage all together if they consider you to be a liability. Because of the unpredictable nature of protests, she suggests checking with your provider to see what may or may not be covered. Doing so may lead some drivers to reconsider their decision to participate.

“I don’t think it would hurt, because you can go out there, and you can have every intention on being peaceful and law-abiding – you can’t speak for everyone else. And I’m not saying people are going to go out there with malicious intent, but you just never know,” Skywalker said. “So even if you expect to join a peaceful gathering, I still think it’s worth knowing what your policy covers because you sometimes have to expect the unexpected. And I think having that knowledge beforehand, it might help you make a decision later on if things do get wild.”

Weighing the consequences

Property damage, criminal charges and insurance issues may be just the tip of the iceberg. Canadian officials, in an attempt to quell the ongoing Freedom Convoy protests, recently threatened protesters with fines, prison time and possible loss of their commercial driver’s license. McConnell says drivers need to consider

“Commercial drivers with a Class A license are a special group, an incredibly special group. I mean, a very limited group. That license is something that you can’t take for granted. It is a very, very special license procedure. Not everybody has it. Not everybody can get it. And to weigh that against, ‘Hey, I would like to tell my side of the story. I want to show my solidarity with my fellow trucker.’ How’s the best way to do that?”

McConnell says that despite best intentions, once protests cross the line of peaceful to unlawful it’s too late for drivers to turn back.

“When it escalates into alleged violence – unpeaceful protest – that’s when we see a lot of people being remorseful for what has happened,” McConnell said. “And by that time it’s too late. It’s absolutely too late. And that Class A is never coming back.”

For those participating in protests, The American Civil Liberties Union provides a comprehensive list of your rights as a protestor and tips for responding to various situations. LL

 

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