Trucker wage lawsuit filed against company with ties to Elaine Chao
March 24, 2021
Truckers for Vulcan Materials, a company former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao had a financial stake in during most of her tenure, is suing the company for misclassifying them as independent contractors.
On March 10, a class of truck drivers for Vulcan Materials filed a lawsuit against the company in a Georgia federal district court. The lawsuit claims the company unlawfully misclassified the drivers as independent contractors to avoid its obligations to pay overtime as required by federal labor laws.
Vulcan Materials sells and distributes crushed stone, sand, gravel and construction materials including asphalt and ready-mixed concrete. Plaintiffs transported these products from quarries to the company’s customer sites. All of the transportation was intrastate, according to the complaint.
Drivers are paid each week a flat amount for each delivery. That amount is unilaterally determined by Vulcan Materials, plaintiffs claim.
Truckers worked more than 40 hours during most work weeks. According to the complaint, a driver typically worked 11-12 hours a day Monday through Friday or 55-60 hours each week.
Before driving for Vulcan Materials, truckers are required to sign an “Independent Contractor Service Agreement,” the lawsuit states. Some of the ways the company directed and controlled the manner in which the drivers perform work include:
- Work in quarries owned and operated by the company.
- Deliver products to the company’s customers.
- Dispatched on assignments by dispatchers employed by the company.
- Communicate regularly with employees of the company, including but not limited to updating the company on the status of deliveries, receiving instructions on new assignments, and other work-related duties, and submitting their vehicles to company employees for inspection.
As a condition of employment, Vulcan Materials does not allow drivers to perform work for competitors concurrently while driving for the company, according to the lawsuit. In regards to independent contractor laws, drivers provide delivery services that are essential to the company’s core business. For the most part, independent contractor truckers are economically dependent for their financial livelihood on Vulcan Materials.
Other means of control involve assignments. Vulcan Materials determines the locations where drivers load and deliver, including the time of day when they must report to work and the order and timing of the deliveries, the lawsuit claims. These deliveries are tracked with GPS devices. Furthermore, drivers are required to install company-issued cameras to enable Vulcan Materials to observe and monitor their work. Drivers are not allowed to refuse assignments without repercussion, plaintiffs claim.
Regarding the employment contract, the lawsuit claims they are drafted exclusively by Vulcan Materials. The terms of agreement are nonnegotiable.
Vulcan Materials made headlines in 2019 after it was discovered Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao still owned stock in the company.
In May 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported that Chao continued to hold shares of Vulcan Materials despite having pledged to surrender them by April 2018. Chao had signed an ethics agreement before her confirmation, which stated she would get a cash payout in April 2018. Rather, Chao’s shares were paid out as deferred compensation for the two years she served on the company’s board. Per company policy, deferred share units are paid out in shares of company stock.
In the year that passed since April 2018 and The Wall Street Journal’s report, Vulcan Materials shares rose 16%, giving Chao a gain of $50,000. Shortly after the report, Chao sold her shares. However, the delay sparked an ethics investigation by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Deputy Inspector General Mitch Brehm.
“Based on our preliminary review, we concluded that there was not a sufficient basis to initiate a formal investigation into grant awards or the secretary’s financial interest in Vulcan Materials,” Brehm wrote. “However, we concluded that a formal investigation into potential misuses of position was warranted.” LL