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70-year-old California trucking company, freight brokerage closes abruptly

Tony’s Express had over 200 employees, drivers, and warehouse and dockworkers

Tony's Express, headquartered in Fontana, California, abruptly closed on March 28. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

A 70-year-old California-based less-than-truckload carrier ceased operations Thursday, leaving over 200 truck drivers, warehouse workers and office personnel without jobs, paychecks and paid time off (PTO).

The formerly family-owned company, Tony’s Express, headquartered in Fontana, had 87 drivers and 42 power units at the time of its closure, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s SAFER website. The company also had around 10 linehaul drivers, who were owner-operators.

John Ohle, CEO of Tony’s Express, sent a text message Thursday, which was obtained by FreightWaves, to his employees that the company was closing its doors that day and could not cover the previous week’s payroll or workers’ PTO. Their medical coverage ended Saturday.

“The current market just didn’t support our ability to operate and be a profitable company, and the cost of fuel in California made it very difficult,” Ohle told FreightWaves. “We were in very serious discussions with two different companies about coming in and partnering or taking over Tony’s, and those fell apart at the very end, and literally, it was a last-minute decision.”

Ohle said he plans to have Tony’s Express employees paid but did not provide a date for when that might occur.

“We’re working right now to make sure we mitigate that situation and get everybody paid,” he said.

Red flags

Some former Tony’s employees said they saw the writing on the wall months ago that the company was in financial trouble and left after their hours were cut and the company’s mechanics’ shop and on-site fuel island closed.

Ohle said these decisions were necessary to boost the company’s bottom line.

“We shut down the shop because it was inefficient and we saved money by going through a full lease and maintenance program with Penske, which is a great operation,” he said. “When I took over, I thought I could save the company, that I could pull a team together and save it.”

On March 24, four days before the company ceased operations, former Tony’s Express workers said they received a text from Ohle informing them that the company would not be running trucks the following day “due to a truck insurance issue.”

In texts obtained by FreightWaves, Ohle sent out a second message March 25 that the company was “still troubleshooting our current insurance issue and require that all employees remain off” the following day.

They never returned to work.

According to FMCSA data, Tony’s Bodily Injury Property Damage (BIPD) coverage is slated to be canceled on May 1. However, the company obtained new broker bond coverage for its freight brokerage in February.

“When we received the first text, I believed we were going back to work and that it was an insurance issue that would get fixed,” one truck driver, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told FreightWaves. “It was a shock when I received the final text that the company was closing and we weren’t getting paid. We all have mortgages, rent and bills to pay, and now we don’t have medical coverage for our families.”

Better times

Former Tony’s Express employees spoke fondly of the company’s previous owners, Anthony “Tony” Raluy and his brother, George Raluy, who sold the family-owned trucking company that their father started in 1954 to Ohle in March 2023.

Tony Raluy, who maintained his CDL until his retirement at 80, died six months after selling the company.

One driver, who worked for the company for nearly 15 years, described Tony Raluy as a hands-on boss. He could be seen driving the fuel tanker truck around the yard, took time out of his day to talk with his employees and knew everyone’s name.

“He even took the time to help teach a former dockworker to become a truck driver — that driver retired from Tony’s Express last year after 46 years,” another former employee said. “Tony wouldn’t have told us he was closing down the company by a text message. He and George would have done things much differently — they had a lot of respect in this industry after 70 years in Southern California, and we were loyal to the Raluys because they cared about their employees and not just the business.”

More red flags

Tony’s Express had switched from direct deposit to issuing paper checks in the past few months. Several employees, mainly at the Stockton location, complained that their paychecks had bounced during this time, according to a source familiar with the situation. Some banks refused to accept a second paper check from the company after their first ones bounced.

The source said office personnel are owed two weeks’ pay because they were salaried employees, while drivers and others are only owed one week’s pay.

“He [Ohle] smoked us all week, stringing us along for four days that we were coming back and would get paid that week,” the former Tony’s employee said.

In recent months, one ex-employee claims some company executives, including Ohle, started paying lumper fees on their personal credit cards, which could add up to thousands of dollars per day, instead of adding funds to Comdata to pay the lumpers who were unloading Tony’s trucks at customers’ warehouses.

Along with its headquarters in Fontana, Tony’s operated a facility in Stockton, California, which had around 65 drivers, and two satellite yards in Phoenix and Las Vegas, which had about five drivers apiece at the time of its closure. They lost their jobs on March 28.

One former driver said Ohle cut back their hours from 12 to eight per day a few months ago. 

“We weren’t happy about it but we accepted it because we had steady jobs and many of us had worked there for about 15 or 20 years,” the LTL driver, who didn’t want his name disclosed for fear of retaliation, told FreightWaves. “But after all of the sacrifices we made to help the company, the company sure didn’t help us in the end.”

Tony’s Express did not file a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act notification with the California Employment Development Department of the company’s impending closure. Companies with over 100 employees are required to give a 60-day notice of a planned shutdown.

Ohle said there wasn’t time to file a WARN notice because the deals he had in the works to absorb Tony’s Express failed at the last minute. California’s WARN Act makes an exception for mass layoffs caused by business circumstances that were not “reasonably foreseeable at the time that 60-day notice would have been required.”

With over 40 years of experience in the trucking industry, Ohle bought another family-owned trucking company, C&M Transportation Inc. of Kansas City, Kansas, in 2002. However, two years later, he abruptly shuttered operations after closing the majority of the company’s terminals and reducing its workforce from around 150 employees to 70, according to the Kansas City Business Journal.

Ohle admitted that C&M “had come up short on paydays in recent months,” according to the news outlet. “We did not sufficiently fund some of our checks. But we have paid people to make sure they’re whole.”

Asked about the closure of C&M Transportation 20 years ago, Ohle blamed the company’s collapse on a failed attempt to take the cartage company public “with some people in California.” 

“It did not work out because it [C&M] probably should have been closed when I bought it because it was losing money,” he told FreightWaves. “The situation at Tony’s Express hurts a lot more because I thought I could turn things around and make it profitable again.”

What’s next?

Several people told FreightWaves that they have filed for unemployment but are actively looking for new jobs in the trucking and logistics industry.

Without paychecks and health insurance, some said they are in a financial bind and unsure if Tony’s Express will pay them what they are owed and pay out their PTO.

“We are all in a bind and believe this could have been handled much differently if the company had told us they were in trouble and had filed a WARN notice 60 days ago so we could have started looking for new jobs,” a former employee said. “But nope, we found out in a text message that we didn’t have jobs, health insurance, weren’t getting paid.”

Do you have a news tip to share? Send me an email or message me @cage writer on X, formerly Twitter. Your name will not be used without your permission.

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  1. California nightmare

    I had to pick up at 3 different shipper’s in California to get one load delivery destination at Macy’s Atlanta Georgia. The shippers were strip mall import export businesses.

  2. Richard

    Stay out of trucking. Worked for 4 trucking companies in one year. It is a bloodbath. This administration has destroyed the trucking industry.

  3. Linda Arnold

    Such a shame! CA is only about less than a year before it is insolvent! The demrat majority in the House and Senate do not give a rats ass how families pay their bills and put food on the table! They still get their pay! We need legislation enacted that when the actions and price gouging of the politicians impacts the citizens, that the corrupt politicians do not get paid until the States economy shows a drastic rise in the economy!

  4. The TRUTH

    Joe Martin, Carlos Cisneros, Steven Martinez and Morgan Craven all continue to get paid cash under the table to assist him in selling tractors, freight and everything he can for cash!

    Go look at California Closeout for your freight or call Mitch @ 213-448-7573!

    Brandy assisted in growing Tony’s and turning it around but would not support what was being done that was unethical! She did tell us in November that she could not stay and back what was being done! She later joined DDP never to hinder Tony’s business but to assist them in growing and when Tony’s closed she’s worked numerous hours to help us all! To throw her name and DDPs name could only come from the people that was involved in running everything for everyone!

  5. Dutch Holland

    Yellow clearly violated the WARN act and it looks like this smaller LTL thought they could get away with it too. These truckers deserve better. You should have informed them and let them decide if they wanted to stick it out to the end or jump ship instead of making them work until the last haul and leaving them stranded. Shame on YELLOW for not even advising customer service reps that they no longer had a job, then leaving truckers in the middle of the night locked out! Shame on you Tony’s for thinking you could do the same to your company. This effects the workers and the customers and the public, I hope YELLOW is found in Violation and had set an example to stop this exact trend from occurring!

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Clarissa Hawes

Clarissa has covered all aspects of the trucking industry for 16 years. She is an award-winning journalist known for her investigative and business reporting. Before joining FreightWaves, she wrote for Land Line Magazine and If you have a news tip or story idea, send her an email to [email protected] or @cage_writer on X, formerly Twitter.