Labor Dept. requests dismissal of fleet's countersuit of drivers seeking overtime pay

Ccj Logo White Headshot

Trucking news and briefs for Thursday, March 23, 2023:

DOL seeks dismissal of company’s countersuit of drivers seeking overtime pay

The U.S. Department of Labor has requested that a federal court in Vermont allow the department to intervene and seek the court’s dismissal of a counterclaim that Bimbo Bakeries USA Inc. – one of the nation’s largest baking companies – has asserted against its own truck drivers who are seeking the overtime compensation that they are allegedly owed.

In October 2022, bakery distributor drivers who work for Bimbo Bakeries USA Inc. and Bimbo Foods Bakeries Distribution LLC filed a private lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont alleging they were misclassified as independent contractors. They claimed that, as employees, the companies owe them overtime back wages. 

Bimbo Bakeries then countersued the drivers, seeking restitution of any money the workers earned while working for the companies, trying to offset any back wages or liquidated damages the court may ultimately award to the workers.

[Related: Why we need to eliminate the overtime exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act to solve the driver shortage]

DOL’s Office of the Solicitor is now seeking to intervene to dismiss Bimbo Bakeries’ counterclaim. The department argues that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not allow alleged employers to assert these types of claims against their workers who are seeking back wages. 

In its filing, DOL said that courts have recognized similar counterclaims tend to discourage workers from asserting their FLSA rights, which would include the right to participate in the department’s investigations and enforcement cases. In addition, the department explained that its enforcement efforts may suffer if employers raise impermissible counterclaims in FLSA cases, as the department depends on workers coming forward to report potential FLSA violations.

“Companies use counterclaims like this one to circumvent the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act,” said Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda. â€śThese companies want to have it both ways – they want the benefits of not paying overtime wages and, if a court says they must pay under the FLSA, they want their employees to reimburse them for their own violations of the law. That is simply not allowed.”

Partner Insights
Information to advance your business from industry suppliers

[Related: Second bill takes aim at truckers' overtime exemption]

Eight-state HOS waiver extended into mid-April

Fuel haulers in eight states can continue to operate under an hours of service waiver after the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration extended a Regional Emergency Declaration that has been in effect since Dec. 22.

The waiver was initially prompted by an unanticipated shutdown of the Suncor refinery in Colorado, severe winter storms, and high demand resulting in difficulty in obtaining necessary fuel in the affected states -- Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

Under the waiver, motor carriers and drivers providing direct assistance supporting emergency relief efforts transporting gasoline, diesel or jet fuel into the eight states are granted emergency relief 395.3 (maximum driving time) of the hours of service regs.

FMCSA first issued the waiver on Dec. 22 and extended the waiver the first time on Jan. 17 before extending it again on Feb. 14 through March 17.

The new extension extends the waiver through April 16. FMCSA said it intends to continually review the status of the extension and may take action to modify, extend or terminate the declaration if conditions warrant. 

Heniff earns NTTC safety award

Heniff Transportation Systems (CCJ Top 250, No. 71) announced today that it earned the National Tank Truck Carriers’ 2022 Grand Award in the association’s for-hire category with the highest mileage class. 

The award is based on the overall safety performance of carriers as determined by DOT-reportable accident frequency per million miles. The Heniff family of companies produced a modest accident frequency rate of .249 per million miles for over 124 million miles travelled across North America in 2022.

“Safety and service sell in our industry,” said Bob Heniff, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Heniff Transportation Systems. “Without safety, you’ll simply have no sales. This recognition is a tribute to the safety commitment of each Heniff team member, particularly our professional driver corps that ran all of those miles during the year.”

The NTTC’s Grand Award winners in each mileage class move on to direct competition to determine which fleets will be recognized as the 2022 North American Safety Champions during the trade group’s annual conference in Boston, Massachusetts, later in May.

This recognition marks the second time in three years that the company won its mileage class.  Heniff will now compete with larger for-hire carriers in the Harvison Division for the Heil Award.