Taking Their Lumps

| April 11, 2005

Schneider National and other carriers began passing inefficiency costs on to shippers in 2004. Many added detention charges for the first time, while others actually began collecting them.

“Shippers don’t enjoy paying it,” O’Neal says. “But the industry is so tight on capacity, they don’t have any choice.”

In today’s tight freight market, shippers who refuse to pay the new fees quickly find themselves without trucks. Others either fix the inefficiencies, turning trucks around in less than two hours or moving to drop and hook operations, or pay the new charges.

Precious time
Last fall, nine months into the new rule, Schneider National measured remarkable improvement in wait times. “Our driver wait time has dropped 39 percent,” says Schneider National’s Tom Nightingale. Still, the company had to stop hauling loads for some of its clients because of productivity concerns – especially loads that have multiple stops and high-touch freight. “A driver’s time has become increasingly precious.”

For drivers, waiting isn’t just a hassle; it can have serious financial effects. Time spent sitting is typically unpaid – since most drivers are paid by the mile – and cuts into the hours available for driving. Under the old HOS rule, many drivers logged waiting time as off-duty, scheduling their sleep time around difficult delivery locations. But the new regulations won’t allow such shortcuts. Trucker Rand says in his experience receivers haven’t improved that much since the new hours rule went into effect in January 2004. “Shippers and consignees have not changed a bit – the rules do not apply to them,” Rand says.

At carriers that don’t have detention fees or contracts with freight handling companies [see Sittin' by the Dock on page 24], drivers have little recourse except to pay whatever a loader or unloader wants to unload the truck or unload it themselves. The reason is simple economics: “The cargo is desired by the receiver when they want it – not when the driver wants it unloaded,” says OOIDA’s Spencer. “If they don’t need it right now, they don’t mind letting it sit.”

This leaves drivers in a bad position. If they can get a door to unload, they can typically pay for a lumper or unload themselves. (The latter has been made more difficult by Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, which generally prevent drivers from using powered equipment like forklifts even if they are certified on the equipment.) Most carriers pay a driver less to unload than what they’re willing to pay a lumper. For example, carriers will pay a driver $70 to unload a truck and will pay a receiver or lumper as much as $250 for a full load. Drivers have to decide whether they want to accept less to do the same job just to get back on the road.

“I used to unload once in a while to pay myself – but any more it is not worth it,” says Rand. “If I feel it would go faster to load or unload myself, I still might consider it.”

Where drivers cannot get a door to unload, they are stuck cooling their heels until the receiver makes one available. Recourse is spotty, but fleets usually ask their drivers to call dispatch when such problems arise. A dispatcher will intervene with a receiving clerk. Under the best of circumstances, that speeds the unloading.

Occasionally drivers create their own way out. When Nodine first retired, he continued to drive part time. He had a little more leverage than most drivers because he didn’t need the job to pay the bills. “After sitting for over eight hours at a dock in Georgia and being told that I would still have to wait another five hours for 50 cases coming from another plant, I made my own recourse,” Nodine says. “‘Either pull your freight back off my trailer, ship the shipment short, or I am going up the road without any paperwork. I am leaving in 20 minutes; you have 20 minutes to make up your mind.’ They shipped it short!”

Some drivers never face loading and unloading issues. This is especially true of industries that have adopted a just-in-time approach to freight. Trucks are loaded in a pre-approved window and unloaded just the same – usually by the shipper and receiver. But two industries in particular – food and retail goods – are notorious for long waiting times.

The only actions ever taken against a receiver for violating lumping laws were lawsuits filed against food warehouses (See Lumping and the Law above). On the loading end, some shippers will set an appointment time to guarantee a truck will be at a location – but may not even begin putting together a load until the driver arrives, much less loading within a two-hour window.

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