- A truck driver who moves Amazon packages is suing the mega-retailer and his employer, AAA Freight, which contracts with Amazon.
- In the lawsuit, the truck driver alleges both companies "worked (him) into the ground like a rented mule and intentionally deprived (him) of sleep."
- It's the latest in a slew of trucking lawsuits in recent years that demand companies provide better rest breaks. Federal courts have slammed Walmart and big names like Pam Transport with fines for not paying for breaks.
- Still, this lawsuit takes a different tone and it reveals again that Amazon's logistics empire may slight safety for profits.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories .
Yet another truck driver is challenging their employer, accusing the company of violating labor laws.
And this time, it's retailer-turned-trucker Amazon that's getting slammed with a lawsuit.
On January 15, truck driver Timothy Weakley filed a civil complaint against Amazon and Chicagoland-based AAA Freight (which contracts with Amazon) for violating the Hours of Service (HOS) laws mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Administration. The FMCSA is the federal agency that regulates safety rules for commercial drivers.
Weakley joined AAA Freight in May 2019, and was assigned to the company's "Amazon division." There, the driver alleges that he was forced to work in 20- to 30-hour shifts with rest breaks lasting one to two hours.
When contacted by Business Insider, a representative from AAA Freight had no comment on the lawsuit.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company is investigating Weakley's claims.
"AAA Freight is one of thousands of companies we contract with to move inventory around the country," the spokesperson said in a statement. "We require our contractors and their drivers to comply with strict policies that ensure safety, among other things. We are actively looking into the claims, as we always do when these rare, but unfortunate situations arise."
According to FMCSA regulations, truck drivers may be on duty a maximum of 14 hours in a day , with a maximum of 11 hours spent driving. Trucks are equipped with an electronic-logging device (ELD) that indicates when a driver needs to go on their rest break, sending notifications to the driver and their employer.
However, Weakley alleged that AAA Freight ignored those notifications and "remotely edited" his ELD data. He also said Amazon, which tracks drivers through a phone app, did not ensure he was getting regular rest breaks.
The truck driver pushed back on taking on illegal loads, to which an AAA Freight employee allegedly told him on a phone call, "Turn your truck in and find a new line of work more suitable for laziness." In another call, an AAA employee allegedly told Weakley, "You and your smart-ass mouth and disrespectful attitude almost just got banned from Amazon for life."
It culminated on October 31, when Weakley fell asleep at the wheel at 10:30 p.m., after an illegally short rest break, en route to an Amazon job in Tennessee. He was seriously injured, the lawsuit claimed.
A warning sign of Amazon's hold on the trucking industry
Scores of truck drivers have challenged their employers in recent years on the FMCSA's rulemaking on rest breaks.
Unlike most workers who are paid per hour or in a yearly salary, long-haul truck driversare typically only paid per mile of driving. However, they spend weeks on the road for work and hours every day doing non-driving work tasks which are usually never compensated.
But this complaint against Amazon strikes a different tone. Previous suits interrogate whether federal labor laws apply to the trucking industry; what Weakley alleges is that Amazon's contractors are ignoring safety laws that definitively apply to truck drivers.
AAA Freight stressed to Weakley that eschewing safety laws were key to pleasing Amazon, its largest customer, according to the lawsuit. "Amazon is our biggest and best-paying customer so occasionally we have to bend the rules in order to appease them," one employee allegedly told the trucker.
Amazon is rapidly in-housing its transportation network, particularly around trucking. It acquired more than 10,000 branded trailers in 2015, and then an undisclosed amount of branded tractors last year .
It's providing new jobs for truckers, but many drivers aren't pleased with how Amazon compensates.Amazon's rates posted on its brokerage service are 18.4% lower on average than rates posted on DAT, one of the largest broker boards in the country.
And companies who were initially keen to make Amazon a big customer have found themselves reeling as the company quickly changes its transportation strategy.
Last year, XPO Logistics the top logistics company in the US by revenue in 2018 found that it had to slash $600 million in expected revenue when Amazon curtailed its business there by two-thirds.
New England Motor Freight, whose 2017 revenue totaled $402 million, unexpectedly shuttered in 2019. Some analysts pointed to the loss of that company's Amazon business. "Amazon contracts are pretty demanding,"Satish Jindel, the SJ Consulting Group's principal consultant, told Business Insider at the time .
The new lawsuit also points to other safety problems at Amazon's growing logistics empire. Multiple news reports show that Amazon's last-mile delivery network has opted for profits over safety; an Amazon delivery van even killed former Amazon CFO Joy Covey .
And pilots at Amazon's contract air cargo companies allege that the company does not provide proper training or have rigorous hiring standards. Three pilots died in Feb. 2019 when an Amazon Air pilot crashed outside of Houston .
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