A federal judge has struck down PAM Transport’s motion to dismiss a class action lawsuit against it. The decision could have a huge impact on driver pay reform efforts.
Truck drivers are typically paid by the mile, not by the hour. But thanks to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), truck drivers still need to be paid at least minimum wage when their work is calculated on an hourly basis. This means that even if a driver is paid for tasks performed, the total payment needs to be at least as much as if they were being paid minimum wage for each hour they worked.
In 2016, three truck drivers sued PAM Transport for failing to pay them at least minimum wage. Nearly 3,000 other drivers joined them in the class action lawsuit. The drivers claimed that since they still had job responsibilities even when they weren’t on duty, those hours should count towards their hours worked.
PAM tried to get the case thrown out, but Judge Timothy Brooks of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas denied their motion to dismiss. Judge Brooks wrote a strongly worded memorandum saying that “there is no ambiguity,” and that time spent in a truck while not eating or sleeping – even if that time isn’t logged as “on-duty” – must be counted towards hours worked.
According to Business Insider, the judge’s decision essentially means that a driver could be entitled to minimum wage for 16 hours per workday. Only the 8 hour’s rest when the company does not expect the driver to be working shouldn’t count as hours worked. That means drivers would need to make at least $116 per 16-hour day. That’s $812 per week.
“It’s worth noting the case only stands for the proposition that carriers must pay their drivers $7.25 per hour,” said the lead attorney representing the drivers, Justin Swidler. “Under the FLSA, hourly wages are considered over the course of a whole workweek. This means that while carriers nationwide should understand their minimum wage exposure, companies which pay reasonable wages to their drivers have no reason for concern.”
In the past truckers have filed multiple successful class action suits against carriers who they believed weren’t paying ‘reasonable wages.’ C.R. England for example paid $2.35 million in a similar case in 2016. And the year before that, PAM settled a similar class action case with drivers for $3.45 million.
This decision could be great news not just for those drivers who are paid poorly, but also for those who are well above the minimum wage threshold. As those companies who pay the least are forced to pay more, other companies may have to raise their wages in kind to remain competitive. A pay bump at the bottom could have a ripple effect all the way up the pay scale.