ROGUE MOVERS AND BROKERS BEWARE
Household movers and brokers that try to hold customer shipments hostage will now face stiff penalties and lengthy suspensions under a new policy issued by the FMCSA. The policy was announced earlier last month just weeks after a Senate probe denounced a portion of the household goods brokerage industry for intentionally deceiving some of their consumers. FMCSA said it could fine them up to $10,000 per day, per violation, and suspend those exhibiting “patterns of violations” for up to three years. The policy applies to carriers and brokers that knowingly break a contract and fail to deliver a shipment that has been paid for, FMCSA said.
Paul Oakley, senior vice president of government affairs for the American Moving & Storage Association (AMSA), said that his organization supports FMCSA’s actions. “More and more people go to the Internet, find a nice website, and then get somebody on the telephone who asks how many rooms are in the house,” Oakley said. The broker then quotes a price, based on the number of rooms, for say $1,800. The customer then sends the broker or mover the $1,800. When the mover shows up, he might say he can’t move the load for $1,800 or he might wait until the truck is loaded and then tell the customer that the price is now going to be $4,500. Then the mover says, “I’ve got your stuff, what are you going to do?” Oakley said, “Unfortunately, it happens all the time.”
The Senate investigation, made public at a September 19 hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, concluded that it’s common for brokers to leave consumers with bills from carriers that do not match estimates. “Committee staff found multiple examples of price increases for thousands of dollars with very little justification for the increases,” the Senate report said. Oakley said the new transportation funding law gives FMCSA the power to require that hostage goods be returned to the shipper, but that power is not specifically included in this new policy. “This policy is just about suspending the carrier that’s inappropriately holding the goods hostage and fining them.”
Another provision AMSA was pushing for in this latest transportation bill included establishing a consumer assistance program, a joint federal-AMSA project to give real-time advice and counseling to victims of rogue movers. AMSA also wanted FMCSA to hire more inspectors. Oakley said at one time there were 70 to 100 inspectors dogging bad household goods operators, but that number has now dwindled to only about 10.
NO MORE DODGING VIOLATION HISTORY
In a recent case before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC), the issue of whether or not an employer’s legal identity precludes the Secretary of Labor from attributing violation history to the successor company was addressed. Specifically, OSHRC ruled that although the companies may have distinct legal identities, the successor company can be cited for a repeat violation if the predecessor company had been issued a citation for the same violation in the past.
This issue was raised shortly after a contractor – one that provides a variety of construction services such as roofing and painting – was installing a metal roof on a town maintenance building without using proper fall protection and one of the workers was injured when he fell off the roof.
Following an inspection of the work site, OSHA issued two citations to the successor company under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, one alleging a willful violation of 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(11) and the other a repeat violation of 29 CFR 1926.503(a)(2). OSHA based the repeat violation on previous violations of the same standard by the predecessor company, which was owned by a sole proprietor who had ceased operations just six weeks prior to the formation of the new company.
OSHRC concluded that the statutory language in section 17(a) of the OSH Act is most reasonably read to permit, in the appropriate circumstances, the Secretary’s application of a “repeat” characterization to cases where the cited employer has altered its legal identity from that of the predecessor employer whose citation history forms the basis of that characterization. Such an interpretation is not only consistent with the Act’s purpose, but also ensures the effectiveness of its enforcement scheme.
NEW HIGH-TECH LASER RADAR UNVEILED
Indiana State Police have demonstrated a new weapon to help reduce crashes caused by drivers who speed, follow too closely, and change lanes unsafely. What looks like a traditional hand-held speed monitor, the LTI 20/20 Lidar has brand new “distance between cars” software that can measure and record both how fast a vehicle is traveling and exactly how close it is to the vehicles around it. Even in a big group, this device can clock one specific vehicle.
The laser beam bounces off the car, semi or motorcycle and returns to the device. As the information processes instantly in the Lidar device, a photo of the vehicle is taken, along with a video that records the exact time and distance. The images in the still photos and video are so sharp that the face of the driver is readily identifiable. The information on the vehicle is immediately forwarded to another ISP unit to make the traffic stop.
Although it’s not required, the state trooper can show the still photos and video to the driver on a computer. The images are downloaded within seconds to the troopers’ onboard computer, making it hard to contest the violation. It’s quite impressive in court, too, because people can’t say, “That was my car, but I wasn’t driving it,” or, “Someone took my car.” The units only cost $5,500 each and I would imagine that if the Indiana State Police have good results with them, you will be seeing these used all over very soon.