Sudden closure of G.D.S. Express a harsh example: Small fleet drivers get stranded too

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Updated Dec 21, 2019
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With Christmas just days away, Akron, Ohio-based carrier G.D.S. Express closed abruptly Tuesday, Dec. 17. The fleet shut off fuel cards for drivers still on the road Wednesday, Dec. 18, and office staff and drivers were reportedly not paid this week, according to truckers and others familiar with the company’s closure.

While the sudden bankruptcy of mega-carrier Celadon was news heard ‘round the industry last week, smaller fleets can – and regularly do – close their doors without warning, sometimes leaving drivers stranded in the process.

“We were blindsided,” said Jacob Keaton, eastern operations manager at G.D.S, which runs 75 trucks, according to FMCSA data. “We’ve heard no rational explanation in the last 48 hours.” He said he and his in-office colleagues learned of the closing Tuesday afternoon from company owner Craig Stacy. However, Keaton said they received no clear explanation as to why the company was being shut down.

Truckers News could not reach Craig Stacy for comment.

Despite the closing and not being paid, Keaton and other office staffers were on the job this morning. He said he was working at getting those drivers still on the road refueled and home. He said he was also working at helping drivers find new jobs.

“Taking care of our drivers and our customers is what matters,” he said.

As of 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Keaton said he still had 12 drivers he was trying to get home.

By September of this year, more than 640 trucking companies had folded, according to Donald Broughton, a trucking-focused analyst and managing partner of Broughton Capital. That’s more than double the 310 that closed last year, though carrier bankruptcies hit an “extraordinary, all-time low” last year, said Broughton. Still, that’s dramatically more carriers that close than trade press (like Truckers News) and consumer media report on.

Those hundreds of fleet closures can leave drivers far from home without a way back.

Jodi Morgan Beach was one of the G.D.S. drivers on the road when the bad news broke. She said she was in Illinois under a FedEx load headed to Columbus, Ohio, when she got the message.

“I put fuel in my truck out of my own pocket to make the delivery,” she said Thursday. She was in Ohio and headed to her home in Pennsylvania.

Morgan Beach said she worked for G.D.S. from September of 2008 to October of 2016 before leaving driving for two years. She went back to G.D.S. in October of 2016.

“I really liked the company,” she said.

Matt Murphy was a G.D.S. driver but was home when he heard about the fleet’s demise. “Mark Whitacre told me he will sit there until all his guys are home,” Murphy said Thursday. Whitacre is general manager of G.D.S. Express.

Another driver, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was still under a load in El Reno, Oklahoma, as of Thursday. He said folks in the G.D.S. office were working to get his load delivered and to get him home.

“GDS shut the doors and … paychecks never hit the bank and payday was today, Thursday. … No fuel to get home left us stranded ‘cause (they) shut fuel cards off,” the driver said.

With G.D.S. for about four years, operations manager Keaton said he has been encouraged by the number of others in the industry who have contacted him to help get drivers home and find them new jobs. He said he also heard from a group formed to help Celadon drivers when that company closed earlier this month.

Drivers were told of the company’s closing by a message Wednesday to their in-cab devices.

Mike Cady, who is listed as the company’s director of recruiting on LinkedIn, sent this message, as written below, to drivers’ in-cab communications devices:

“It is with HEAVY heart, fighting anger and tears that I send this message. Unfortunately, through mismanagement from ownership, GDS is closing our doors. I want to sincerely THANK each and everyone (sic) of you who have been part of our “family”. Over the years WE accomplished a lot! We are proud to be GDS, I bled Blue and Orange. … Moving forward if anyone needs help of a reference, PLEASE contact me.”

G.D.S. Express specialized in garments-on-hanger (GOH) delivery to retailers. Keaton said the peak season for deliveries to retailers ended Tuesday, the same day the company was shut down.

G.D.S. was founded in 1990 by former Roadway Express executive Jack Delaney, according to the company’s website. He retired in 2010 and his son J.P. became president. In 2014, J.P.  and then-CEO Craig Stacy formed GDS Express Group.

Among other carriers that have suddenly closed this year are New England Motor Freight, which shutdown in February, and HVH Transportation, which folded in August. Falcon Transportation and LME, Inc. shut down in April and July respectively.

Swift Logistics, a subsidiary of Swift Transportation and the Swift-Knight conglomerate, Stevens Transport and Roadrunner all recently announced layoffs.