The Long-Haul Trucking Companies That Require Drivers to Lease Company Trucks

And then repossess those trucks when drivers fall behind on the payments.

Photo credit: tpsdave, CC0 Public Domain.

I’ve shared stories about truck drivers before, but they’ve mostly been about how long-haul trucking is a great way to make money after college, or how self-driving trucks are going to eliminate a lot of jobs (and maybe kickstart the whole basic income thing, but I’m not exceptionally hopeful).

This story—which I got as another tip from a Billfolder—is different. It’s a really long read, but it’s really important, because it shows a side of long-haul trucking that most of us probably don’t know exists:

How trucking companies forced drivers into debt, worked them past exhaustion and left them destitute

A yearlong investigation by the USA TODAY Network found that port trucking companies in southern California have spent the past decade forcing drivers to finance their own trucks by taking on debt they could not afford. Companies then used that debt as leverage to extract forced labor and trap drivers in jobs that left them destitute.

If a driver quit, the company seized his truck and kept everything he had paid towards owning it.

If drivers missed payments, or if they got sick or became too exhausted to go on, their companies fired them and kept everything. Then they turned around and leased the trucks to someone else.

Drivers who manage to hang on to their jobs sometimes end up owing money to their employers — essentially working for free. Reporters identified seven different companies that have told their employees they owe money at week’s end.

It’s the old “I owe my soul to the company store” trick, and when you search “Sixteen Tons” to make sure you have the lyrics right, Wikipedia tells you the song is about the truck system. (Technically, “truck system” refers to “being paid in scrip instead of money,” not “having to rent a truck from the company that hired you,” but a company store is a company store.)

It’s worth noting that Meaghan O’Connell wrote about a similar Washington Post story a few years ago, noting that some truck companies were requiring their drivers—sorry, “independent contractors”—to rent or finance their trucks directly from the company, dangling the promise of truck ownership next to the reality of debt.

Trucking No Longer a “Ticket To The Middle Class”

So… yeah. This is the type of thing USA Today has spent the past year investigating, and now we can all read what they’ve learned.

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