PORTLAND, MAINE — (MAINE WORKER JUSTICE — July 19, 2016)
Today, Jack Judge served a lawsuit on UniGroup Inc, and its subsidiaries Mayflower Transit and United Van Lines, alleging that as a moving van operator he was their joint employee entitled to minimum wage and was not an independent contractor. His suit, filed as a collective action in federal court in Chicago, raises serious questions about the predominant business model in the industry.
The United States Department of Labor calls the misclassification of employees as independent contractors “one of the most serious problems facing affected workers, employers and the entire economy.” This misclassification strips workers of basic rights such as the right to a minimum wage and the right to unionize.
According to the lawsuit, UniGroup’s van operators are often labeled as independent contractors even though they can only drive for the UniGroup companies, perform the central function of the companies, and wear mandated company uniforms. In fact, the suit alleges that the company can track the drivers by satellite and issue fines for poor driving.
The suit alleges that that the van operators like Mr. Judge are employees of the moving companies because as a matter of economic reality, they are completely dependent on the defendants. As mislabeled contractors, the van operators are responsible for many of the expenses such as fuel and repairs, and therefore in many work weeks when everything does not go perfectly, they take home little if any pay. In fact, the suit alleges, some trips put them “in the hole” and they have to work off the debt.
The complaint alleges that as employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act the van operators are entitled to receive $7.25 per hour of work, free and clear of work related expenses. The suit asks for unpaid minimum wages, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees. Jack Judge seeks to be a representative plaintiff for other van operators that want to opt-in to the case.
Mr. Judge says: “It is really hard to make ends meet when we have to pay all of the expenses. We live on advances and then find ourselves trapped, just trying to work our way out of the hole when a job leaves us with a negative balance. They make all sorts of promises, but then the load isn’t as good as expected or there is some repair, and suddenly the money isn’t there.”
Andy Schmidt, his attorney says: “Living paycheck to paycheck is tough, but for an ordinary worker like a van operator, to earn a negative balance after working incredibly hard is unconscionable.”
The case filed in the United States District Court Northern District of Illinois is Jack Judge v. UniGroup et al, 16-cv-6884.
The Plaintiff is represented by Andy Schmidt of Andrew Schmidt Law PLLC in Portland, Maine. Matthew Piers and Caryn Lederer of Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd. serve as local counsel in Chicago.