FMCSA Leasing Task Force Begins Work
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In their first meeting on July 11, members of a federal truck-leasing task force began outlining plans for future discussions on how to evaluate potential predatory commercial and motor carrier lease agreements with independent owner-operators.
The nine-member leasing task force was established under authority provided by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and chartered by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who challenged the committee in a kickoff speech.
The group will address areas that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said have long required more careful attention, including “providing best practices to assist drivers in assessing the impacts of a leasing agreement prior to entering into such agreement, and recommendations on changes to laws to promote fair leasing agreements.”
The task force members range from attorneys, a labor representative and owner-operator to an academic, and logistics and trucking company representatives.
Buttigieg said task force members and subject-matter experts assisting the task force will be “working to make sure that truck leasing agreements are not trapping drivers in predatory situations.”
“We see a lot of ways that lopsided leases are preventing drivers from ever getting ahead, sometimes leaving them in a worse place than they started, through no fault of their own,” Buttigieg said. “We’ve seen leases that restrict the driver’s choice of where and how to use their equipment, preventing them from choosing loads outside of the leasing carrier’s network.
“We’ve seen leases that allow driver pay to be withheld for things that are outside of their control, and we have seen repayment terms that result in a driver relinquishing a vehicle even after they made payments on that vehicle for years.”
In addition, Buttigieg said, “We’ve seen things that are not officially or explicitly written into the lease terms, but are put into practice nonetheless that target drivers — including recent immigrants — with unrealistic promises, and then trap them with fees and work restrictions that leave them no chance to succeed.”
“Why is truck leasing a priority for me and for FMCSA?” asked FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson. “It’s because the conditions that surround the work environment for truckers is influential and root cause for safety. We have data, a lot of evidence that says the longer somebody stays on the road driving is safer.
“Our goal is to improve the overall quality of life for drivers so that they’ll stay in the industry. Experienced drivers are our safest drivers, and we want to eliminate the triggers that might push them out of the industry.”
Larry Minor, FMCSA associate administrator for policy, called the challenge facing the committee “a complicated topic.”
Future Discussion Topics
- Studying the different types of leases
- Looking at the behaviors of drivers outside of the actual leases
- Obtaining data and statistics related to different types of leases
- Reviewing the language and the waiver rights in leases
- Examples of “bad behaviors,” included in predatory leases
“We’re onto something big, and we’ve got to figure it out,” Rush said.
“My firm has litigated many class- and collective actions on behalf of truck drivers,” said attorney Lesley Tse, of New York law firm Getman, Sweeney & Dunn. “I have seen the way that predatory lease agreements and misclassification of drivers can really just make it nearly impossible for drivers to make a living in the trucking industry.”
Task force member Steve Viscelli, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied the careers of truck drivers and lease-purchase agreements for 18 years.
“I’ve seen over that time and talked to hundreds of drivers who have tried to navigate the gauntlet of sometimes misinformation and other issues that they have to face to successfully start a career in trucking,” Viscelli said. “I think we can go a long way to ensure greater transparency and fairness to drivers when they are trying to establish themselves as owner-operators, and addressing a lot of these problems and truck leasing is fundamental.”
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