“You want my fingerprint?”
By the time Brian McDonald gets to work on his typical Friday, his fingers have already been screened for any puncture marks and he’s back in his parked truck, waiting for the jacked-up parking spot to open up.
Each year, thousands of Brampton’s drivers cough up thousands of dollars in alleged wage theft. And what appears to be a small town problem has become a global phenomenon.
Brampton’s increasing trucking density helps explain why it’s become so notorious for wage theft, forcing drivers to seek help from labour rights organizations such as CUPE in order to receive pay owed.
Folks like McDonald do their best to enforce the rules that govern drivers’ wages and hours, every day.
And, for the most part, they’re compensated for missing hours they racked up by volunteering to work off the clock or driving numerous hours to some kind of business meeting, even if the business itself only had one employee.
But you might not want to bet on that
One of the problems confronting McDonald is that courts in Ontario and the United States have decried his employer’s practice of going after the wages of drivers without matching those wages directly to the driver.
McDonald’s trucking employer, United Trucking, advertises its trips through the U.S. and Canada online, arguing that drivers understand and appreciate that journeys will come with shifts of varying lengths.
But what about when a driver goes home at night? What about when he arrives the next day?
“The basic formula they were using was to say, ‘I’m going to hit you on Monday. And by Friday night, I’m done,’” McDonald said.
In this kind of shift work, it’s not unusual for drivers to pick up two shifts a day.
“In the early 90s, you only had one employee. If they didn’t have a work schedule, you never got paid,” McDonald said.
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McDonald’s employers appear to have found a new method of running the labour laws dry.
When drivers don’t show up to work on one day, they’re assessed for five hours unpaid overtime.
And this can be huge: A contract between McDonald and his employer says that he will be compensated for his “lost time” for the five-hour “back-to-work” shift.
But the hourly rate is a flat $55, so drivers struggle to get the cash.
And it’s not just the U.S. drivers who are affected. In Ontario, 48,300 hours are assumed to be lost each year to disputes over wages, and other disputes over hours, according to the Ontario Ministry of Labour.
Such unpaid shifts typically cause driving companies to not be able to pay the minimum wage in Ontario, creating a longer-term injury to business.
The ministry has backed away from forcing trucking companies to pay drivers who either fail to show up for work or cancel shifts.
“There’s no clear answer to the question of why this happens,” said Joanne de Filippis, the minister of Labour.
“Can you compare trucking companies, even though they might have the same business operations, yet one will do this to avoid paying drivers and one won’t? We can’t figure that out, but it’s something that we’re investigating.”
Not all drivers wind up seeing a doctor or lawyer
Truck drivers can seek help from labour rights groups, but their attention tends to fade after a while, or they end up ignoring the clock and heading home.
McDonald’s brother has even told him that he once hitched his rental truck up to his nephew’s home and simply sat around while the car waited for him to arrive.
Another brother has told him they hang around the trucking yard during long shifts just to pass the time.
Earlier this month, U.S. authorities raided a trucking company in Florida on suspicion of