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Truckers: Shuttered Central Freight Lines still owes them escrow, maintenance funds

‘The sad part about this is Central Freight just kicked us out … with nobody to contact’

Owner-operators claim the LTL carrier hasn’t returned their escrow or maintenance account funds. Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Owner-operators and independent contractors say Central Freight Lines still hasn’t refunded thousands of dollars in escrow or maintenance account funds that were withheld from their paychecks and that they are still owed quarterly safety bonuses. 

Moreover, they say, no one at CFL has been returning their calls since the LTL carrier shuttered operations in mid-December.

A source familiar with the company told FreightWaves that up to 100 owner-operators and independent contractors have not received refunds from CFL for money deducted from their weekly settlements.

Former CFL President Bruce Kalem, who is working on a contract basis to help with the company’s wind down through the end of this month, did not respond to FreightWaves’ request seeking comment.

One former owner-operator, who was leased on to the Waco, Texas-based carrier for more than 20 years, said he is owed $1,500 that CFL deducted for his escrow account — or the security bond — which was a requirement to haul loads for the carrier.

The trucker added that he and other owner-operators also didn’t receive their safety bonuses, which varied from $500 to $700 per quarter based on the number of safe miles they drove.

Safety bonuses were due on Jan. 21.

“Some of us were with the company for 20 or 30 years and we were just cut loose,” the owner-operator from Texas, who didn’t want to be named, told FreightWaves. “We were told that if we turned in our plates, our permit books, fuel cards, and our IFTA [International Fuel Tax Agreement] licenses and decals, the company would send us our escrow money immediately.” 

The longtime CFL owner-operator said he and several others returned everything to their terminal managers the day the company closed but still haven’t received their money.

“The sad part about this is Central Freight just kicked us out and left us with nobody to contact,” the trucker told FreightWaves. “We stayed with them through all the ups and downs.”

Another trucker had been with CFL for over 30 years, first as a company driver then later as an owner-operator for more than 20 years.

He admits there were red flags over the years that the company was experiencing financial difficulties, but he and others remained loyal.

“I don’t know if we were just comfortable there because we had dedicated routes, some of us were home every other night and on weekends, but we stayed,” the owner-operator from Houston told FreightWaves.

Besides his $1,500 in escrow money, he too, says he is owed up to $700 for a quarterly safety bonus, which the company rolled out for its owner-operators and independent contractors in July 2019.

“After the first time we received our safety bonuses, we never received it on time, but we eventually did get the money,” the former CFL driver said. “Now we aren’t sure we will get anything.”

Besides owner-operators, CFL had some independent contractors with lease-purchase agreements — in which money was deducted weekly from their settlement checks — with the goal to eventually pay off their trucks. CFL also required its ICs to have a $1,500 security escrow, which was deducted from their pay, as well as maintenance escrow accounts to cover various truck expenses.

A source familiar with CFL’s lease-purchase program said some of the contractors were told to turn in their trucks on Dec. 13, the day executives formally announced the LTL carrier was shutting down, because the finance company had no record of them making payments toward owning their trucks.

“That money is just gone — poof — with nothing to show for it,” the source told FreightWaves.

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Clarissa Hawes

Clarissa has covered all aspects of the trucking industry for 14 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]