Finger Multiple (no relation to Han Solo) teleported into my time-space continuum office the other day. (I have no idea what a “time-space continuum” is, but my landlord charges an arm and a leg for it.)
So, anyway, Finger comes to my office, which was a galaxy far, far away from his main base of operations, Outdor (in the same solar system as Endor). He runs what he terms a “shipping business” there, but sometimes it seems more like smuggling.
He’s freaking out because his crew of Wookiees, who pilot most of his delivery vehicles, are claiming that he’s not paying them properly, that he’s trying to say they’re independent contractors when they should be classified as employees.
I tell him to chill out, which only sends him off the deep end. (I keep forgetting about his having been frozen in carbonite.) Eventually he calms down enough so that we can talk about the problem.
He’s got about a half-dozen cargo cruisers (Falconettes, he calls them) that his crew use to deliver the shipments. This is a relatively new development since all the Wookiees used to have their own craft, which they used whenever they liked and could fly for anyone they wanted to. The Wookiees really were independent of Multiple.
But with some of the new environmental rules the old spacecraft can’t be used anymore.
When Finger found out about this, he devised a great plan to assume more control over the increasingly rebellious furry creatures and to make some extra credits to pay off Habba the Jut.
He bought some new vehicles and leased them to the Wookiees, telling them they only had to pay him 450 credits a week, plus 200 credits per week for insurance (you never knew when some new Death Star wouldn’t crop up and blow away a perfectly good ship) for five years. That equals 117,000 for the equipment and 52,000 for insurance.
Finger had a few additional rules.
The Wookiees had to be at Finger’s business, Alderaan, by 7:00 am each morning to pick up their cargo and to begin deliveries. If someone wasn’t there at 7:00, they didn’t get any work the next day.
The same was true if a delivery was not made. While in route to their drop-off point, the Wookiee pilot had to keep in regular contact with Finger. The pilots had no other source of income other than what they made from Alderaan.
Even though the pilots all signed Independent Contractor Agreements, where they agreed they would be classified as independent contractors, they got fed up with the low pay, the continuous deductions from their paychecks, and their lack of freedom to do what they wanted.
So they sued Finger to get back the deductions for the space craft, arguing that since they were really employees, and not independent contractors, Alderaan was responsible for their expenses.
Finger wanted to know if he should fight or to relent. I explained that, unfortunately, the Force was strong with the Wookiees. I pointed out that almost the same situation had happened on Earth in the recent case of Garcia v. Seacon.
In that case, a number of truck drivers sued Seacon for reimbursement of deductions. Seacon and the drivers had just lived through much of the same experience as that of Finger and the Wookiees.
It seems that the drivers used to use their own trucks to do deliveries for Seacon at the local Ports. But recent environmental rule changes forced the drivers to no longer use their trucks.
So Seacon stepped in and bought several delivery trucks and made them available to these same drivers. But they required the drivers to sign a Lease Agreement that called for weekly payments of $450 for the truck and $200/week for insurance.
Seacon also had the drivers sign Independent Contractor Agreements and exerted the same control that Finger did over his furry fliers.
The Court of Appeal dispensed with the argument about the Independent Contractor Agreements, saying, “The parties’ label is not dispositive and will be ignored if their actual conduct establishes a different relationship.”
Instead the court looked at the relationship between the drivers and Seacon. The court’s fundamental precept was, “[T]he principal test of an employment relationship is whether the person to whom service is rendered has the right to control the manner and means of accomplishing the result desired . . . .”
Finding that Seacon thoroughly controlled the drivers in their activities and jobs, the court ruled that the drivers were employees. Therefore, Seacon had to pay back all of the deductions, about $110,000 worth.
It was an expensive lesson for Seacon. I hoped that Finger realized his misjudgment and didn’t fight against the Wookiees. It would be too much like going up against the Empire. ©