NFI truckers seek class certification in misclassification lawsuit
September 11, 2019
After nearly four years in litigation, former drivers for National Freight Inc., have asked a federal judge in New Jersey to grant class certification in a misclassification wage lawsuit.
On Sept. 3, the plaintiffs and putative class of former truckers for NFI filed a motion seeking certification in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey. According to court documents, all of the drivers worked full-time for NFI making deliveries to Trader Joe’s locations throughout the East Coast.
Court documents reveal that at least 135 drivers were signed on as independent contractors for NFI to make deliveries to Trader Joe’s stores in the region.
Portillo et al v. NFI
In November 2015, a group of truck drivers filed a lawsuit against NFI. The lawsuit alleges that the drivers were misclassified as independent contractors and missed out on wages owed if they were more properly classified as employees.
According to the complaint, NFI hired both employee drivers and independent contractors to deliver goods from Trader Joe’s warehouses to various stores on the East Coast. The lawsuit alleges that employees and independent contractors performed the same job.
More specifically, drivers would pick up loads in one of two warehouses. One warehouse was in Nazareth, Pa., and the other in Hatfield, Pa. Those loads were delivered to stores in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Although independent contractors were required to have their own trucks, NFI also required that all trucks carry the NFI logo and operate under its U.S. Department of Transportation number.
Furthermore, drivers in the lawsuit claim that were entirely dependent on NFI for their business. According to the lawsuit, they were not allowed to perform delivery services for anyone else during the time at NFI.
Dependent on NFI
Independent contractors would report to the Pennsylvania distribution each day to pick up the trailers. At the same time, employee drivers would be performing the same loading tasks.
Plaintiffs also point out how NFI controlled their operations. NFI assigned the contractors a set route and gave them a schedule that indicated what time they were to leave the distribution center. Drivers were to arrive 30 minutes before that scheduled time and were monitored with NFI’s Qualcomm system during the trip.
Drivers were also unable to negotiate the price they were paid per mile or the price paid for fuel surcharges. The complaint alleges that NFI would delay increases in the fuel surcharge amounts for several weeks when the cost of fuel increased. However, when the cost of fuel decreased, the fuel surcharge amounts would be immediately calculated.
Plaintiffs also claim they were not paid the distance they drove. As they were paid per mile, NFI would pay drivers based on expected mileage, not actual mileage driven. In addition, NFI dispatchers would direct drivers to pick up merchandise outside their set routes and would not pay them accordingly.
Meetings and insurance deductions
Further stating their case of misclassification, independent contractors were required to attend safety meetings and other company meetings. Often times, they did not receive additional pay for attending these meetings.
NFI independent contractors also had several pay deductions levied on them. Drivers were required to pay for their own workers’ comp insurance, liability insurance and other job-related insurance. These were paid for by weekly deductions from their weekly settlement statements by NFI. Additional money was placed into an escrow account to cover damage claims, which would be returned to drivers 30 days after leaving the company. Drivers also had to pay for the Qualcomm system via weekly deductions.
Based on the above information, attorneys for the independent contractors argue that NFI had complete control over their operations. Consequently, those drivers should be deemed employees, not independent contractors. The lawsuit NFI illegally deducted money from compensation in violation of the New Jersey Wage Payment Law.