Labor violations force truckers into life of servitude

An investigative report released Friday by USA Today exposes a truck driving industry rife with labor violations, forcing truckers into working conditions akin to indentured servitude. Brett Murphy, the article’s author, joins Hari Sreenivasan from Naples, Florida, to discuss the findings.

Read the Full Transcript


    Truck drivers are a crucial link in the supply chain of getting imported goods from ports to stores. An investigative report by "USA Today" shows those drivers work long hours for low pay, all while being heavily in debt from leasing their trucks. The story, "Rigged," published yesterday, recounts how at least 140 truck companies in southern California have been accused of labor violations, and forcing truckers into working conditions akin to indentured servitude.

    The article's author, Brett Murphy, joins me from Naples, Florida, to discuss the story. Tell us what's happening to these truckers?


    Well, the companies found a loophole in the labor law. By calling these guys independent contractors instead of employees, no real rules apply. They can kind of do whatever they want — or they think they can.

    So, what they've been able to do was sort of find a large population of truck drivers, mostly immigrants, about 16,000 immigrant drivers. And when the state told these companies that they had to use newer, cleaner trucks, instead of paying for it themselves, they came up with this idea of lease-to-own contracts, lease-to-own agreements.

    And when the drivers came into work one day, just like they had been for decades, the company said, if you want to keep your job here, if you want to keep driving, you need to sign this contract. They didn't translate it. They didn't explain it. And the guys thought that they would just be getting a new truck after five or seven years, and if they worked hard, they'd get good pay, just like they'd always had.


    So, there's nothing wrong inherently with the lease-to-own model. That happens everywhere. How are these drivers being taken advantage of?


    Because they owe money to their boss every week, the companies use that as sort of a constant threat of punishment or retaliation. So, for instance, if they don't want to work 14 or 16 hours, the boss might say, well, then, you can't work tomorrow. So, they use it as a control, right, to make them work around the clock.

    We are looking at guys doing 100 hours a week, 120 hours a week. And even if the pay is so bad they're taking home pennies on the hour, they have no choice but to say yes, because — so, if they fall behind, for instance, on a week, the debt carries over to the next week. And they can actually owe their boss money come Friday.

    And we saw cases where guys would come home after double shifts — 16, 18 hours a day — they would try to go home, you know, back to their families, they were tired. And the boss would actually lock the gates to the parking lot and say, no, you need to go back. You need to go back on to the road and deliver more containers.

    So, they're constantly in these situations where they have really no agency or options. They can't take the truck and go work for somebody else. They're really tied to it. Their whole investment gets tied up into this truck.

    They went bankrupt. Houses got foreclosed on, all because they were pouring their life savings into this thing that they really never qualified for to begin with. They didn't have the creditworthiness. That's what the companies knew when they were drawing up the agreements, and that's why they stepped in to kind of be the middle man.


    When you say working double shifts and 120 hours a week sometimes, aren't there rules in the trucking industry that prevent truckers from working too many hours so that they're still alert behind the wheel?


    Exactly, yes. A driver is only supposed to be driving for 11 hours in a single day. We're looking at guys who are almost doing double that. And what they're doing is they cook their log books. They doctor their manifests.

    And a lot of the companies not only know that their drivers are doing that, but they require it. We found instances of dispatchers withholding paychecks until drivers doctored their log books. We had managers who were actually showing them how to do it every Friday. And it's really illegal, and it's really dangerous.


    All right. So the goods that are being transported by these trucks are making their way into most of the stores that we're familiar with and we shop at. When you ask those stores whether they knew this was happening and how these goods get to their shelves, what do they say?


    Because they don't hire these guys directly — they often hire shipping companies, or logistics companies that handle all this — they didn't really want to comment. They didn't think it was their place, which is, of course, an argument they tried using in the past with a lot of their factories overseas.

    But what they were saying, really, was that, you know, we expect all of our vendors and contractors to adhere to the laws. We have our code of ethics. We want everyone to follow it.

    But as far as, you know, what I heard, a lot of the times, this was news to them. And, therefore, they didn't think they really were in a place to comment on it.


    All right. Brett Murphy of the "USA Today" — the story is online right now. Thanks so much.


    Hey, thank you.

Listen to this Segment