NELP Files Amicus in Oliveira v. New Prime: Indentured Servitude in the Fine Print

The latest Supreme Court term saw a devastating decision that shut the courthouse doors on millions of workers across the country. Now, a new case threatens to take forced arbitration even further. Advocates have long assumed that transportation workers such as truck drivers were exempt from forced arbitration clauses under a clear exemption in the Federal Arbitration Act. In Oliveira v. New Prime, the Supreme Court will decide the issue.

At the center of this case is an industry so exploitative that experts have called it “sweatshops on wheels” and “sharecropping on wheels.” Drivers like Dominic Oliveira work for trucking companies, delivering the goods we buy at retailers such as Home Depot and Target. Most port truck drivers are unlawfully labeled as contractors, however, and are subject to fine print clauses that can keep them trapped in debt. Drivers like Mr. Oliveira often work long hours only to find that their paycheck at the end of the week—after a slew of company deductions—is well below minimum wage, or even negative. Drivers can put in extremely long hours only to find that they owe the company money. If drivers stop working, the company can seize their trucks—along with the thousands of dollars they’ve paid into it to work. It’s no surprise that a Pulitzer-nominated investigation calls the industry modern-day indentured servitude.

Today, NELP filed an amicus brief in this case, on behalf of NELP, the Teamsters International Union, the Economic Policy Institute, and the National Employment Lawyers Association. Our brief explains why an adverse ruling would be terrible not only for workers, but also for the larger public and for law-abiding employers. When low-road companies like New Prime unlawfully misclassify their workers as independent contractors, it imposes huge costs on all of us. If the Supreme Court rules against the workers, it would create further incentives for companies to misclassify their employees as independent contractors. This case will have far-reaching consequences, and we will be paying close attention when the case gets heard this fall.


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Ceilidh Gao

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