Truckers got their day in court on Wednesday, as a not-quite-complete slate of Supreme Court justices weighed arguments in a closely watched case that could saddle the industry with higher costs that could hit consumers and ripple throughout the economy.
In New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, No. 17-340, the justices heard the case of Dominic Oliveira, a long-haul truck driver who filed a suit against the transportation outfit New Prime three years ago, alleging that the company failed to pay him minimum wage and at times even charged him for working.
The case pits business interests against labor groups in the first major case of the term that could have consequences for hundreds of thousands of American workers and potentially millions of consumers. It could shape an industry that generates more than half a trillion dollars in annual revenue.
The case also raises questions about the use of the "independent contractor" designation to reduce pay and benefits for workers who perform essentially identical work as employees. On that front, the court's decision could have ramifications for virtually every sector of the economy.
It comes amid a bruising confirmation battle for Brett Kavanaugh, whom President Donald Trump nominated in July to succeed Anthony Kennedy, long considered the court's swing vote. Kavanaugh, if confirmed, would solidify a conservative, 5-4 majority on the nation's highest court for the foreseeable future.
To liberal court watchers, the case, the first in a trio of arbitration suits set for argument this term, typifies the potential damage that a conservative court could do to American workers.
In a dramatic brief filed with the court in July, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., invoked the Declaration of Independence and Niccolo Machiavelli, the Renaissance-era author of influential political treatise "The Prince."
The lawmaker argued that the case was part of a "sustained attack by corporations and billionaires, and by the front groups they stand up to mask their identities in this effort."
Oliveira's attorneys called New Prime's warnings "an imaginary parade of horribles" in a filing that month.