Taking Their Lumps
Because drivers had to pay lumpers to unload, coercion was rampant. Conflicts between union dockworkers and drivers are legend. “You know why it’s called lumping?” asks Todd Spencer, executive vice president for the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association. “Because if you didn’t pay up, they’d put a lump on your head. They were shaking down drivers for pay.”
Although the origin of the word lumping is actually different (according to the Oxford American Dictionary), many drivers who drove during the ICC period define the word as Spencer does. “It is a much smoother operation today than it was years ago,” Nodine admits. “You walk in and present your bills to the receiving department. They ask you if you are going to unload yourself or hire a lumper, and they will direct you to the person in charge of the lumping service. You don’t pick lumpers up on the street corners anymore, as we did in the past.”
Further formalization by unloading services, such as Freight Handlers and Crusaders, has improved the process. “For all the right reasons this industry is moving to professional unloading services,” says Kitts. “Safety was initially a primary reason carriers chose professional services. But now we can prove that a fleet can make productivity gains as well. It’s not just a matter of getting them unloaded. The whole process is more efficient.”
Where such services exist, interaction between driver and receiver are better, too. Both Crusaders and Freight Handlers treat truckers like customers and create a professional atmosphere. Freight Handlers even surveys drivers on a regular basis to gauge what matters most to their clients. “What matters to most of them is a reasonable period of time getting in and out and getting treated fairly and professionally,” Kitts says. “I’ve spent 20 years managing distribution centers with employees. People who maintain a professional decorum always get treated better.”
Lumping and the Law
Before deregulation, problems between receivers and carriers were bad enough to warrant Congressional intervention. The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 dealt directly with lumping. The law, which has never been superseded by subsequent legislation, puts some of the responsibility for loading and unloading on the shipper and carrier. At the same time it outlaws coercion.
According to Title 49 of the U.S. Code, Section 14103, “whenever a shipper or receiver of property requires that any person who owns or operates a motor vehicle transporting property in interstate commerce be assisted in the loading or unloading of such vehicle, the shipper or receiver shall be responsible for such assistance or shall compensate the owner or operator for all costs associated with securing and compensating the person or persons providing such assistance.”
In effect, this means that carriers, drivers, shippers and receivers must agree among themselves who has responsibility for the loading and unloading, who will be paid and how much at the time the load is arranged. In the case of owner-operators, this is usually spelled out in the lease contract.
The law also makes it illegal “to coerce or attempt to coerce” drivers for money to unload or load a trailer. While the law is not enforced (a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said the agency doesn’t have any regulations on lumping and no responsibility for enforcing the law, even though the law places jurisdiction under the Department of Transportation), it has had the effect of reducing coercion and giving drivers the option of loading and unloading themselves.
The law’s lack of enforcement is a bone of contention with many drivers and has even given rise to strange myths about the law. A popular one suggests the Federal Marshals are charged with enforcing the statute. Before deregulation, the ICC investigated some violations of the law, but once the ICC went away, the law ceased to be enforced, despite concerns by the FMCSA and its predecessors over fatigue and safety issues.
“As a practical matter, I cannot remember the last time the FMCSA has done anything to pursue lumper abuse on a criminal basis,” says trucking attorney Henry Seaton.
Carriers concerned about loading issues have created contracts that spell out the responsibility or contract with service providers.
Another avenue for enforcement exists, but it hasn’t been used much. Drivers and carriers can sue under the statute, which is exactly what OOIDA did in the late 1990s. Along with a driver, the group sued Detroit-based Michigan Repacking & Produce Co. and Powerhouse Produce in Youngwood, Pa. The lawsuits were ultimately settled, with the two companies agreeing to provide free lumping services.