Tow truck operators protest AAA tactics outside county court

Group alleges AAA threatened retaliation for class action suit

A group of Bay Area independent contractors providing emergency road services through AAA called out the motor club organization Friday for alleged threats of retaliation in connection with a lawsuit.

People with local tow truck businesses parked themselves outside Martinez's Superior Court of Contra Costa County on Friday afternoon for a protest before bringing their concerns to a judge inside.

Matthew Edling, principal at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, said the road service providers are asking that AAA, a nonprofit motor club organization, bring an end to tactics to dissuade them from participating in or even endorsing a class action lawsuit.

Edling's firm filed a class action complaint in late 2013 in the Superior Court alleging that AAA incorrectly classifies its road-side service providers as independent contractors when it's closer to an employer-employee relationship, he said.

AAA, which is moving its headquarters to Contra Costa County with a Walnut Creek base, relies almost entirely on independent contractors such as small tow truck companies as road service providers, Edling said.

Nathan Cozzitorto, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement that "AAA controlled more and more of what we did and who we did it for -- turning our business into a sham and totally financially dependent on the AAA."

AAA officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Edling said the lawsuit is not unlike independent contractor misclassification lawsuits recently filed against companies such as Uber and Lyft.

But Edling believes that the position of tow truck drivers in their interaction with AAA is worse, given the organization's alleged unparalleled control over the towing businesses.

Cheri Carroll, co-owner of Ellison's Towing in Mountain View, explained that AAA accounts for 95% of business for her company and 85% of its revenue.

She also claimed that the organization has "removed a lot of freedom" in how her business operates over time, despite her company being loyal to AAA since its inception.

"We no longer feel that we're independent contractors and yet a lot of their behavior is starving us out of our business," she said. "I'm here with the proverbial gun to my head ... this is the last resort."

But what Carroll and other emergency service providers met in Martinez to do Friday was shine a light on bullying tactics used by AAA in response to this lawsuit, they said.

"Many people have alleged that AAA is coming into their businesses and threatening them with retaliation if they participate or even give tacit approval to the lawsuit," Edling said.

Carroll confirmed that it's been implied to her in various ways that AAA would not continue discussions with her about improving their contract's financial terms if she did not opt out of the lawsuit.

The protest group and its legal representatives were scheduled to present their concerns about threats of retaliation to the class action lawsuit at 1:30 p.m. Friday in a Martinez courtroom.

— Bay City News Service

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