‘Shipper of choice’ phrase on the rise, but what about its negative?

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Updated Jun 1, 2018
How does ‘shipper of last resort’ sound?How does ‘shipper of last resort’ sound?

The suggestion in the title here will be self-evident to any owner-operator who’s sat a grocery warehouse for eight hours or has been rebuffed when hours run out at the dock and … “Well sir, you can’t park here.” (UPDATE: FMCSA, at least, has enabled use of off-duty-driving “personal conveyance” mode for such scenarios to get to the nearest safe rest location, just today in fact.)

I spoke a bit yesterday with Mark White, who runs operations for his family’s dry-van-hauling small fleet out of Hartsville, Tenn., Old Time Express. The company in many ways is doing things right by its drivers — I’ve written about Old Time’s recent-history moves toward boosting detention pay (and base pay, for that matter), particularly on brokered loads, to spur expeditious load/unload, but not a somewhat recent change in drivers’ benefits packages. Intent on attracting quality professionals to the fleet, White and company are now picking up 100 percent of health-insurance premiums that are part of their drivers’ benefits package, rather than the typical split on offer at companies around the nation.

But White had gotten in touch originally with a query about what he’d heard from some of his drivers on some truck stops’ and shippers’ seeming willingness to go beyond the value one gets from being able to pay to reserve a spot at a stop and charge you to park, “regardless of any reservation.” White said he’d heard from more than one of his drivers that the TravelCenters of America location in Walton, Ky., south of Cincinnati on I-75, had done this, a “guy in a gold cart” rolling through the lot trying to collect payments, though White wasn’t sure whether that was any official policy at that stop or just a single instance outside the norm.

I left a message for the store manager there this morning asking about it, but haven’t yet heard back. White speculated that perhaps an employee there may have been going against official policy in trying to collect fees from his drivers parking in standard non-reserved spaces.

What’s worse, though: White has been dealing with a shipper customer at whose facility of late new signs have been posted threatening any hauler who parks on the property with a $500 fine — sound familiar? (Regular readers will recall recent coverage of private booting and towing practices of late, from myself and from Paul Marhoefer on the Overdrive Extra blog.) That particular customer, White says, has been referring drivers next-door to a warehouse location that has newly instituted a pay-to-park policy. Nickel-and-diming of the driver and carrier is “just getting ridiculous,” he says.

Asked whether he viewed the situation at the customer facility as opportunistic or just a response to a growing problem of drivers running out of hours there, he figured “it’s probably a little bit of both. And I don’t know what the solution is – in my view, though, it’s just in poor taste. Everyone wants you to be safe and be legal on your hours, but just ‘get the hell out of here,'” the customer seems to be saying.

White declined to name the customer, noting some negotiations with the shipper were ongoing. “The customer has tried to bully us a little bit on rates,” he says. “We bucked them back a little bit. Now’s not the time to be screwing with your carriers, particularly the small ones.”

They wanted Old Time Express to “take on more responsibility at more risk — and to pay us less for it,” he explains. “I’m not doing it. I’ve got too many other things I can go do for more money and get paid quicker.”

The shipper may well be on the verge of learning the potential value of being a “shipper of choice” the hard way. And for now, maybe “shipper of last resort” might be the best description.

At least, if FMCSA’s new personal-conveyance guidance holds, drivers won’t be in violation when they wave good-bye …. For more on that, in case you missed it:

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