For Whom The Bell Tolls

Posted on May 20, 2009 by - Also by this author

Bell Transportation about to have its bell rung
By now, most of you have heard that a group of chauffeurs in Las Vegas filed a class-action lawsuit against Nevada’s largest limousine company, Bell Transportation. While the main issue in this lawsuit is an allegation that minimum wage and overtime was not paid, there is more mud oozing out of this case each day.
The chauffeurs working in Bell’s Reno operations jumped on this bandwagon like an Amtrak train offering free rates to paradise. They claim that Bell tries to lump them into their taxi operations, except that the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act exempts cabdrivers from minimum wage and overtime compensation but not limo drivers, according to the complaint. The lawsuit cites a Labor Department opinion and multiple court cases to argue that limo drivers, who have chartered or prearranged rides, are entitled to minimum wage and overtime.
I tried to contact Brad Bell in Reno on numerous occasions leaving voicemail on his office phone, his cell phone, and even an e-mail. I wanted to verify the accuracy of information being given to me by both former and current chauffeurs as well as management staff in his office. That’s how I got his personal cell phone number.
While the company readily refers to its chauffeurs as employees and issues W-2 forms to those chauffeurs, allegations include that employees are in some ways treated like contractors. For example, employees are “charged” $12 a month for radio dispatch services. They also must furnish their own napkins and pay for car washes out of pocket. If they fail to do this, they are “fined” $20 for failing to clean the car but yet the chauffeur taking over the car must wash it and is not compensated for it, according to two anonymous sources at Bell.
Since this overtime lawsuit covers the past three years, I suspect Bell will be ordered to pay back the $12 radio fee and other ancillary charges assessed to chauffeurs during that same time period. The amount could be staggering if Bell loses this case.
In my 20 years in the industry, I have heard of so many wacky ways of paying employees, with operators justifying it as their own method, or doing it because someone else does it that way, or it is just their “arrangement” with their chauffeurs. Well, anyway you look at it, if they are your employees driving your vehicles, then the only laws that apply are federal and state. Your own made-up laws will not hold up in court.
So many believe that you can start paying an employee at the time they pick up the client because that is when the company begins making money. Nothing could be further from truth. If the employee is driving your car, insured by you, and burning your gas, tires and oil, the minute they slide behind that seat, you have direction and control over them and they are on the clock whether you like it or not.
Pay attention to this case folks. The next hearing is June 5 and it is bound to raise a few eyebrows because if they win, it will set a precedent and anyone and everyone you might have cheated in pay can come back and collect from you for the last three years. As icing on the cake, you will pay your portion of employer’s payroll tax on that same amount with interest and penalties added on of course because you will be filing late.
This is truly bells and whistles at it’s best with the whistleblowers reporting Bell.
— Jim Luff, LCT contributing editor
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