Drivers for Celadon Group Inc. (OTC: CGIP) appear to have been the last ones to find out about the company’s imminent bankruptcy and shutdown of its over-the-road trucking operation, leaving many of them stranded on highways with no instructions on how to dispose of their rigs and freight or assistance getting home.
Some of Celadon’s competitors are stepping into the breach to help drivers get home, but before they abandon their vehicles there are steps they should take to protect themselves from liability, experts say.
Company drivers “need to find a safe location to park the truck, like a truck stop or rest stop, take pictures of the truck, hide the keys, document the location and where the keys are, and send all that information to the company,” Cassandra Gaines, a transportation attorney and head of Gaines Law Group LLC in Scottsdale, Arizona, said in a phone interview.
She stressed that trucks should not be left on the side of the road because of the danger of being hit by another vehicle.
Drivers are on their own to find bus, air, rail or other transportation home but should keep receipts because there may be options to file as a creditor with the bankruptcy court, depending on their state of employment, Gaines said.
Independent owner-operators who provided service to Celadon are contractually obligated to complete their assignment, Gaines advised, but should keep their receipts because they can submit any expenses for possible reimbursement or sue in small claims court.
And drivers owed unpaid wages should file a claim in bankruptcy court, although there’s no guarantee they will get any money, she said.
Celadon has about 3,000 drivers and about 2,700 tractors across its North American operations.
FreightWaves was first to report (Dec. 6) that Celadon is going under because it defaulted on loan covenants and couldn’t secure additional financing. An official bankruptcy filing is expected next week.
A freight agent close to the company told FreightWaves that calls and numerous emails had not been returned Saturday. The source, who requested not to be named because of the sensitive situation, said “it’s like no one is working today and have all gone home. We work with dozens of folks at the company, yet no one is returning messages.”
Owner-operators and agents are at risk of not being paid for services rendered. In bankruptcy, they are considered unsecured creditors and will be the last to get paid. Employees of the company will be placed in the class of secured creditors and will receive preference over other creditors in wages that are owed, according to trucking industry experts familiar with the process.
Gaines said owner-operators are in a less desirable position in a bankruptcy because they are independent business owners and will be unsecured creditors, meaning they will be paid out after all of the secured creditors get paid, including banks and employees.
The situation is chaotic for Celadon drivers, some of whom say on message boards that their loads have been cancelled and that they were instructed to leave their tractor-trailers at the nearest truck stop, while others said they are being told to stay with their equipment.
A senior Celadon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Celadon’s sales force, customer service reps and other key personnel spent much of Saturday assuring customers that loads in transit are being delivered and answering drivers’ questions.
Information about company-issued fuel cards is mixed, as well, with many drivers saying the cards are no longer being accepted.
Celadon drivers on Facebook are reporting that Truckstops of America is refusing to make repairs or provide roadside assistance because the trucking company’s maintenance account was closed and there is no way to get authorization for repairs.
But several rival carriers, interested in recruiting experienced drivers, have quickly responded to help drivers who are stuck without a way home.
Dart Transit Co. of Eagan, Minnesota, said it will assist any Celadon driver in the field to get home or to one of its four operating centers (Eagan; Sellersburg, Indiana; Atlanta; and Dallas) for driver orientation classes. Current Dart drivers are being instructed to give any stranded drivers a ride. (Dart’s Celadon driver hotline is 612-867-0313.)
“We are committed to matching or exceeding your existing pay package for a like job or route and many of our open jobs come with a generous sign-on bonus as well,” CEO Dave Ables said in an open letter to Celadon drivers. “At the end of the day this is a very tough situation for everyone and we at The Dart Network are here to support the driving community. Whether you are able to work for us or not is secondary to the primary goal of getting you off the road and to your desired location as quickly and safely as possible.”
Hirschbach Motor Lines of Dubuque, Iowa, is encouraging Celadon drivers interested in a job to call recruiters this weekend at 402-404-2018. Those who don’t want a job are being offered free bus rides home.
CRST has posted that it would also offer free bus tickets to help drivers get home.
Recruiters at Covenant Transport have reported talking to over 90 Celadon drivers on Saturday. This is an unprecedented number of inquiries from a single carrier’s driver pool.
U.S. Xpress is offering:
* $500 displacement upon hire or reimbursement of miles not paid up to $750
* Travel reimbursement to the nearest U.S. Xpress location, with taxi or Uber receipts
* Guaranteed home for the holidays
* $10,000 sign-on bonus paid $1,000 monthly
* Bus tickets today to the company’s nearest location tomorrow and meals paid
* $50 personal item replacement for items drivers had to leave behind with receipt
* 80% will be seated within three days
* $25 store credit to buy clothing needed upon hire
Other trucking companies, including BGF Global Inc. of Grand Prairie, Texas, and WEL Companies Inc. of De Pere, Wisconsin, are actively recruiting on the Celadon driver page.
Meanwhile, a board member for Teddy’s Trucker’s Association posted on Facebook that the group will help truckers get home and find a new job, and plans to hold a fundraiser for stranded Celadon drivers. The group established a special Facebook group named CELADON CLOSURE ASSISTANCE AND JOBS.
Other carriers have promised to pay for air travel to get drivers home, and one driver said a recruiter offered to put them on the payroll and give them holiday pay without requiring them to haul a load to help through the holidays.
(Clarissa Hawes contributed to this story.)