Transportation Workers Exempt from Forced Arbitration

Unlike just about everyone else, so-called “transportation workers” cannot be forced out of court due to fine print tucked away in an agreement. Other workers can be forced to sign an agreement to get and keep a job, and that agreement may contain language requiring the employee to give up their right to sue in court and band together with others in class action cases. Under current federal law, namely the Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16) (“FAA”), these provisions in employment and consumer contracts are generally enforceable and do deprive workers of their rights; however, transportation workers are exempted from this law.

For example, today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts decided that Lyft could be sued in a class action case by its workers notwithstanding an otherwise-valid arbitration provision. The decision rested on the court’s view that Lyft drivers are “transportation workers” under the law. The court reached that conclusion partly because Lyft drivers transported passengers from Logan Airport on their first or last leg of their interstate journeys. That was critical because the focus in determining whether a worker who transports goods or people is a “transportation worker” centers on the connection between those goods or passengers and travel between different states and countries, in contrast to merely travel within one state’s boundaries.

When analyzing whether a worker transporting goods is a “transportation worker,” the key questions are:

  • first, whether the employee works in the transportation industry
  • second, whether the employee is directly responsible for transporting the goods in interstate commerce
  • third, whether the employee handles goods that travel interstate
  • fourth, whether the employee supervises employees who are themselves transportation workers, such as truck drivers
  • fifth, whether, like seamen or railroad employees, the employee is within a class of employees for which special arbitration already existed when Congress enacted the FAA
  • sixth, whether the vehicle itself is vital to the commercial enterprise of the employer
  • seventh, whether a strike by the employee would disrupt interstate commerce
  • eighth, the nexus that exists between the employee’s job duties and the vehicle the employee uses in carrying out his duties

This case, Lenz v. Yellow Transp., Inc., 431 F.3d 348, 352 (8th Cir. 2005), is often cited by courts when conducting an analysis of these factors.

UPDATE, July 17, 2020: The First Circuit Court of Appeals in Waithaka v. Amazon, No. 19-1848 (July 17, 2020) rules that “last-mile” delivery drivers for Amazon (who Amazon had classfied as independant contractors) could not be forced to arbitrate their claims and denied their rights to be part of a class action under Section 1 of the FAA. As the Court put it, “Waithaka and other last-mile delivery workers who haul goods on the final legs of interstate journeys are transportation workers ‘engaged in . . . interstate commerce,’ regardless of whether the workers themselves physically cross state lines.”

If you feel that you are as a transportation worker and believe that you have been misclassified as an independent contractor or otherwise been deprived of wages, feel free to reach out to us at 617-338-9400 for a free case review.