Know What Is in the Contract Before You Seal the Deal

by Katy de Vries

MONCTON, N.B. – Owner/operator Peter Bond did something most other truckers wouldn’t even consider doing.

He took his employer to small claims court.

Bond’s journey into the murky waters of legal matters began after he made several failed attempts to discuss payments with his boss.

Bond claimed that despite the verbal agreement he had with his employer that he was to be paid according to PC Miler, his statements showed discrepancies.

What wasn’t explained to him, he said, was the mileage program would be set up to pay the driver the amount owed if going through the St. Stephen, N.B. – Calais, Me. border even if the driver used the Woodstock, N.B. – Houlton, Me. border crossing.

It is 56 miles shorter to cross the border at the Calais crossing than it is to cross at Houlton, Bond said.

“So even if it is less convenient and if in the end it takes longer, for me to drive through Houlton, that is what I’m getting paid to do,” said Bond, frustrated with reliving the experience again.

Bond said he was disillusioned with his boss’ reaction because he really did assume that it was just a minor error and could be easily corrected, but quickly learned this was not the case.

Also brought to the table was the issue of what his employer called an “administration fee” that was tagged onto his fuel charges.

“I noticed a discrepancy in the price I was being charged for fuel, and when I asked them about it, they told me they were charging me an administration fee of five cents per litre. This happened even though there was nothing in the contract about an administration fee, nor was it discussed with me when I was hired, they told me that if I didn’t like it, I could find employment elsewhere,” Bond said.

The actual contract between the parties stated that Bond was to purchase all fuel required for the operation of his tractor-trailer from the company he was working for, but with no mention of the so-called “administration fees.”

The administration charges over a period of eight months added up to over $3,000, said Bond, pointing out that amounts to more than a full truck payment.

“Many companies want you to operate on their fuel cards, it’s been that way for as long as I can remember, because they will sometimes get discounts on fuel,” said Bond.

“But some companies will let that discount trickle down to their drivers but this company did not do that, instead they charged me more so they could profit.”

The extra fee was the final straw for Bond.

He and his wife, Ardith, decided to take the company owner to small claims court last January.

Both issues were heard and an adjudicator ruled in Bond’s favor on the mileage issue but denied him the reimbursement of the administration fee.

But neither Bond nor his employer were happy with the ruling, so they both appealed the decision.

The second time around, the decision was reversed.

A judge granted Bond $3,120.94 for the administration fee complaint but denied his claim on the mileage issue.

In his ruling, the judge said the obvious route for trips from Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and southern New Brunswick would be through Calais, Me.

Bond, he said, should have known that the defendant did not pay according to the default PC Miler route through Houlton, because before becoming a broker, Bond was an employee of the defendant, and at that time, was paid a salary on the basis of trips through Calais, Me.

“We weren’t really worried that Peter wouldn’t find work because he has an excellent driving record and he is bilingual,” said Ardith Bond.

“But to be sure, he made sure he secured a job with a new company and made sure he had his last paycheck before giving his notice and serving them with papers.”

Bond said fellow truckers have informed him that the trucking company has since stopped charging its drivers the five-cent administration fee, and have also drafted a letter for new drivers clarifying how they will be paid according to PC Miler going through the Calais, Me. border crossing.

“I am proud that I stood up for myself. I have no regrets, and I’d do it over in a flash if someone ripped me off like that again,” said Bond.

“I’m really just looking for a fair shake, and not just for me but for everybody in the industry.”

Bond said he wanted to let other drivers know that it is important to know what is in the contract and to keep an eye on records and documentation.

“There could be other companies out there trying to charge these mysterious administration fees too,” said Bond.

“It is fine if they lay it out up front in the contract but when it is a hidden charge with no explanation, that is when it bothers me,” he added.

So even after almost a year of aggravation, legal fees, and missing out on over a week’s worth of work, Bond has no regrets.

“Unfortunately, there is too much of this type of business out there,” said Bond.

“If everybody played fair, the trucking industry would be a better industry to work in. I have since found a company that treats me well and I’m happy there now – that’s all I’m looking for,” Bond said.

Bond’s former employer refused to comment on this issue, despite repeated calls from Truck News.

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