Tell it Like it is

It’s not unusual for owner-operators to complain about the companies they’re leased to. Nor is it unusual for trucking companies to complain about owner-operators. What is unusual is when someone does something about it. Butch Barnes, Overdrive‘s 2002 Trucker of the Year, took the initiative to do just that.

The Cheyenne, Wyo.-based owner-operator says that too often there’s a breakdown in communication between management and truckers, whether it’s about a settlement, a customer service issue or a new corporate policy. Sometimes the breakdown is the company’s fault. Sometimes it’s the owner-operator’s. Either way, it’s frustrating for everyone involved.

To address these problems, Barnes convinced Allied Worldwide, the company he’s worked with for 29 years, to let him start a driver’s board, made up of him and nine other driver representatives. Each year, they meet with upper management to share ideas and driver concerns. “A lot gets done because of the level of people in the meeting,” Barnes says. “You have the man, right there. And maybe he can’t change it right away. But he can do something about it over time.”

Communication flows both ways. For instance, when a new household tariff was introduced, Allied made sure the driver board could discuss the tariff’s pros and cons with other Allied drivers and owner-operators. “They wanted us to know what it meant before we went out and did the truck stop talk,” he says.

Barnes encourages all owner-operators to find ways to voice their ideas and concerns to company managers. But he recognizes that many truckers hesitate to do so because they don’t want to be blacklisted. The key, he says, is to handle yourself in a professional manner. “When you talk, talk facts,” he advises. “Get it on paper. Go in with a good attitude. Don’t go in with a bunch of B.S.”

As with all communication, the bottom line is patience. “If you’re interested and really want to make changes, you have to understand that it doesn’t happen overnight,” Barnes says. “But the idea is to get the thought process going with the people who can do something about it.”

So next time you find yourself grumbling about how little the managers at your company know about the problems you face as a trucker, ask yourself: How will they know if I don’t tell them?

The answer is: They won’t.

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