Making the most of idle time with uncompensated detention solutions

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Updated Nov 9, 2012

RiverratnightThe comments section under Overdrive Contributing Editor Jill Dunn’s story on the issue of uncompensated detention in October lit up with a raft of commentary from readers debating the issues at hand. Chief among them was the deterioration of pay conditions overall since early 1980s deregulation when, as former owner-operator Stanley Lippard wrote, detention pay more or less disappeared, he noted. “Before 1980 and deregulation, I got detention time, but guess what: I didn’t wait back then, because they knew they had to pay it under union contracts and ICC rules. That went out the door after deregulation….

I was a trucker for 41 years, 33 of them as an owner-operator and leased to a carrier. I know that through all those years I did not collect enough in detention time. Altogether, it would not even have bought a good flat-screen TV.”

Another commenter, posting only as “Cor,” expressed frustration with detention at chemical plants and other facilities during years running dry bulk freight, utilizing an air compressor to offload. “I have always liked my job — otherwise I would have never started it — but being kept like the moron of the year in some factory because the customer has other priorities is another story.” Cor cited an average 25 hours a month lost to extended waits at customer facilities. “The trucking company is afraid to complain because it may lose a customer, but in the end the driver, owner-operator or company driver, pays the bill.”

Andrea Sitler, manager of a local drayage hauler, in her comments noted that more carriers needed to take responsibility for compensating their drivers and leased owner-operators, whether or not the carrier actually billed shippers for detention directly or got better rates to account for detention-pay outlays to drivers. “Unfortunately, that is not how it works but how it should work,” she wrote. “I believe the trucking company, not the shipper/receiver, should set the detention policy for its drivers. The company needs to pay the driver for his/her time. If the company negotiates another deal with the shipper or receiver that is on the company — not the driver.”

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Sitler went on to add, “The industry needs to take a collective stand on this issue. It is a major one that affects the bottom line of the company as well as the owner-operator and driver. Time is money, and never has that been more true since the hours of service change limiting the overall workday. Just as an hourly worker is compensated for his/her time, so should a driver be compensated. The driver did not choose to go sit in the parking lot and wait. Dispatch sent him/her there due to an agreement with the shipper/receiver on time.”

The excessive uncompensated detention issue ranked No. 3 in our polling of readers earlier in the year on the top problems for owner-operators in today’s industry, behind only fuel prices and regulatory issues around hours and electronic logs. Find more coverage of the detention issue in this follow-up.

Fleet executives don’t seem to view the issue as of paramount importance, however. Detention didn’t rank in the top 10 of industry concerns released early in October by the American Trucking Associations’ research arm, the American Transportation Research Institute.

Noted owner-operator Gordon Alkire, “It is not the shipper that is the problem most times. It is the carrier that thinks to demand detention for their drivers will cost them the customer. In some cases, it may happen. But shippers will pay if several things are in their favor: dependability of carrier, the rate that the carrier charges them, service of the carrier, attitude of drivers at the customer facility, equipment availability. It takes all this and more to command the constant partnership of customers. Some shippers look at only the rate per mile for that day and seldom at the long-term savings of a good carrier. Unless you’re a company driver you have a choice whether or not to haul for that customer. If you have your own authority you set the rates and conditions.”

For this and other reasons, Lippard wrote, he doesn’t much miss his trucking career. “I have been out of trucking for over a year now — I still have nightmares over waiting to get loaded and the way I was treated by shippers and recievers. I call it PTSD from trucking. Just like being in a war — no one can understand it until they have gone through it. Truckers should be paid strictly by the hour for all hours they are in that truck. Then trucking companies and all of them would start screaming at those shippers to get the trucks loaded or else it will cost them.”

Tell us what you think in the comments.