Most of us know that the infamous “lease-to-own” agreements that some companies push on their drivers are generally a terrible, terrible deal. If you didn’t know that, think about it like this: If the company offers the program, it’s to make them more money. If they’re making more money, that likely means that they’re shifting costs away from them… and on to you. The lease agreements that they have drivers sign are generally pretty ironclad; there’s usually no backing out of one once you’ve put pen to paper. One particularly unscrupulous company has raised the bar for shady lease-to-own contracts in an almost impressively immoral way.
Green Fleet Systems, a trucking company that serves both the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach, had your general run-of-the mill lease-to-own program going on. Drivers were paying so much in leasing fees and maintenance that they were barely breaking even every month with their paychecks.
It had become so intolerable that four drivers approached the California Labor Commissioner, a government office in charge of enforcing labor laws, and filed wage-and-hour claims against Green Fleet, asserting that they were in fact employees, not independent-contractors, and had been unlawfully misclassified. The labor commissioner agreed with the drivers, and determined that Green Fleet owed them a combined $280,000.
This is where it gets really shady.
In an attempt to keep their other drivers from doing exactly the same thing, Green Fleet required every lease operator to sign new leases that were supposed to limit their rights even further. The new leases said that if a driver ever does claim to be an employee, he or she will not only defend and hold the company harmless, but that they also agree to pay the company’s defense costs. So drivers could possibly be reclassified as employees, but only if they waive their right to demand back pay and pay for the lawyer that would argue against them.
Another section stated that any dispute regarding the lease would have to be settled by an arbitrator chosen by the company.
To top it all off, Green Fleets and nine other companies then filed a lawsuit that would prevent the Labor Commissioner’s office from enforcing the very laws that it was created to uphold. Specifically it would prevent the office from “investigating, processing, or proceeding to hearing on any claim” made by those ten companies’ drivers.
Of course, none of the changes that were made to the leases would hold up in court, their real goal is to prevent an uninformed driver from attempting to go to court because “hey, it says right here in your lease agreement that you can’t.” Fortunately, just because you’ve been able to get someone to unintentionally sign away their rights, doesn’t mean that those rights are actually gone.
It’s actually a good thing that those companies tried to shield themselves from impending lawsuits, it just makes it even clearer how guilty they really are.