Truckload carrier U.S. Xpress Enterprises today rolled out a truck lease-purchase program that will allow independent drivers to effectively walk away from their leases if they stop driving for the company.
Under the program, drivers will have access to a 2015-model tractor-trailer with no credit check, no money down, and no "balloon" payments, under which a full payment to satisfy a loan is due and payable on a specific date, depending on the contract's terms and conditions. There are no additional penalties for a contract's early termination, Chattanooga-based U.S. Express said.
Fuel surcharges will be paid on all loaded miles, U.S. Express said.
The program will be available as an alternative to the company's original lease-purchase initiative, launched in 2012, which gave drivers a 90-day risk-free trial before entering into a contract. About 12 percent of U.S. Express' driver workforce is made up of owner-operators
Truck lease-purchase agreements, which have been around for years and can benefit driver and company if structured fairly, received terrible press earlier this month when USA Today published an expos&ecute; showing that port drivers in California, many of them ill-educated immigrants who spoke little English, signed lease agreements only to lose their trucks and the money they had paid in hopes of owning the truck outright after a number of years.
In a worker classification lawsuit involving Phoenix-based Swift Transportation Co., the nation's largest truckload carrier by sales, and five drivers who operated for Swift, the drivers said language in lease agreements written by Interstate Equipment Leasing Co. (IEL), a Phoenix-based firm that works with Swift combined with "at will" termination agreements written into the contractor agreements, meant drivers could be released at any time and still be on the hook for the remaining lease payments because they would be considered in default. The drivers also argued that they could only drive for Swift, and that any attempt to leave would subject them to a crushing debt burden.
In January, a federal district court judge ruled the drivers were Swift employees rather than contractors and that Swift had "full control of the terms of the relationship." The ruling put the drivers in line to receive back pay under federal minimum-wage laws. The drivers may also be reimbursed for such expenses as lease payments, tolls, fuel, maintenance, equipment, taxes, and insurance for the time they drove for Swift under their leasing agreements.