BROOKFIELD — Five years after several Milwaukee area men started working for Fleet Courier Inc., they say they are still trying to recoup tens of thousands of dollars in lost wages.
"It just got bad, you know, and we were saying we gotta do something, we gotta stand up for ourselves," said Reggie Blount, a former employee at Fleet Courier, an Illinois company that has a hub in Brookfield.
Blount and three of his former colleagues filed federal lawsuits against Fleet Courier. According to one of the lawsuits, the men, who are Black, allege the company, whose drivers transport medical equipment, "engaged in unlawful employment discrimination against plaintiffs on the basis of their race."
"They were adjusting the routes to give us the lower-paying routes," he continued.
The men also allege they were not treated as employees, misclassified as independent contractors, and therefore, denied minimum wage and overtime pay required by federal and state laws.
"Our hours were very long and a lot of hours we weren't paid for at all. We may work sixty-hour weeks to make $300," said Blount.
"It just felt like we were being used," Blount said.
Jesus Villa with Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development's (DWD) Equal Rights Division says a January 21, 2021 study of the Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) shows worker misclassification cost the state about $40 million in tax revenues each year.
"So, these are all taxes that employers have to pay for every one of their workers," Villa explained.
If an employer fails to report their employees to DWD-UI (UI is unemployment insurance) quarterly and pay the associated tax on their employees' wages,
they may be required to pay those taxes, with interest and penalties for failing to file timely reports.
"It's a significant problem across the country, but certainly a problem in Wisconsin as well," said Villa.
Villa explains, to cut costs, an employer will classify their workers as independent contractors and not employees.
Across the country, the topic has pitted gig workers against their employers. In December of 2019 Uber and Postmates sued the state of California trying to block a historic labor rights law.
It still took effect in January 2020, requiring companies hiring independent contractors to change their classification to employees.
Many months later, exemptions were added and then an additional vote took place determining Uber, Postmates, and most other app-based rideshare and delivery platforms are exempt and can keep their independent contractor title in California.
In Wisconsin, DWD data shows misclassification investigations went up from 2018 to 2019, then dropped dramatically in 2020 because of fewer investigations conducted due to pandemic-related restrictions.
2019 - 707
2020 - 244
2021 - 19
In 2020, the DWD told the I-Team it has collected $227,698 (including tax and interest) as a result of misclassification investigations of workers.
In Reggie Blount and his former colleague's case, the DWD sided with the men, agreeing they were employees and not independent contractors.
But he's still seeking justice, taking his case to a federal judge is the next step.
"You know there hasn't been a time that we haven't used due diligence," said Blount.
The I-Team reached out to Fleet Courier's attorney, Michael C. Lueder, for comment. He provided the below statement:
"Thanks for reaching out. Fleet Courier generally does not comment on pending litigation. In any event, it has strong defenses to plaintiffs' claims and intends to pursue them."
Nathaniel Cade is the attorney representing Reggie Blount and the other men listed in the lawsuits.
"We wouldn't have filed a case if we didn't think we had a strong case," Cade said.
To learn more about worker misclassification or to report a case to the DWD, click here.