Trucking News: The Trouble With Trucking

ironpony

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Opinion
The Trouble With Trucking
Want to understand how workers so often get a raw deal, even during a growing economy? Ask long-haul truckers.
By The Editorial Board
The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.


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Dominic Oliveira says as a truck driver, he sometimes incurred more expenses than he was paid to make deliveries.CreditLuke Sharrett for The New York Times
The economy is booming. The stock market is frothy. Corporations are earning record profits. Yet workers are getting minuscule raises that don’t make up for the rising cost of living.
What gives?
To understand how this disparity came to be, consider the plight of long-distance truck drivers. They spend weeks away from home, crisscrossing the country to keep store shelves stocked and the economy humming. The trucking industry complains it can’t find enough drivers. And yet the value of drivers’ paychecks just keeps falling over time.
The 1.7 million heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in the United States earned an average of $44,500 last year, according to government data. That’s little changed in inflation-adjusted terms over the past several years. Over the past several decades, inflation-adjusted driver pay has fallen sharply. The 1980 census found that the average male driver — virtually all drivers at the time were men — earned roughly $17,400 in 1979, or about $55,500 in 2017 dollars. That pay drop has coincided with drivers working longer hours — 60- to 80-hour weeks are common, drivers and researchers say — because they spend many more idle hours than they used to at warehouses and stores waiting to pick up cargo and make deliveries, time that typically goes unpaid.
Many truck drivers are paid on a per-mile basis, which means that some of them earn less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The economics of trucking can be bleaker still for drivers who are classified as independent contractors. Some even wind up owing trucking companies money because a truck lease, insurance, fuel and other expenses can add up to more than their per-mile reimbursement rate, a phenomenon that Steve Viscelli, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, detailed in his 2016 book “The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream.”
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Dominic Oliveira has firsthand experience with this problem. Mr. Oliveira, 33, spent a little over a year working for New Prime, a trucking company based in Springfield, Mo., in 2013 and 2014, much of that time as an independent contractor. Some weeks he owed the company money after driving more than 1,000 miles. He made so little that he couldn’t always afford rent, and he spent long stretches — six months, at one point — living out of his truck. Mr. Oliveira’s contract said he was free to drive for other trucking companies, but there were numerous conditions that effectively bound him to New Prime. A federal class-action lawsuit Mr. Oliveira filed against the company says that New Prime controlled his schedule and his ability to haul cargo for other companies. To work for other companies, he would have had to reregister his truck and get a new insurance policy, an arduous undertaking given the long periods he spent on the road.
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Desiree Wood, who is a one-woman trucking company, uses an app that shows drivers where the pay is best in the United States.CreditAdria Malcolm for The New York Times
“This is not a glamorous job by any means,” Mr. Oliveira, who now works for a different trucking company, near Memphis, said in a telephone interview. “But if you put the time and effort in, you should be going somewhere. But a lot of us don’t. It’s insane how many friends of mine in the last five years have gotten divorced and lost everything because a company held back their pay, saying they owe them money.”

Mr. Oliveira’s lawsuit seeks back pay for himself and other contractor drivers. The company has sought to have the suit thrown out, arguing that the company’s contract with Mr. Oliveira requires him to submit disputes to arbitration. But a Federal District Court and the United States Court of Appeals in Boston ruled that Mr. Oliveira could bring his case in federal court because the 1925 Federal Arbitration Act exempts transportation workers. New Prime, which declined through its lawyer to comment on Mr. Oliveira’s allegations, has appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments in October.
Related
More on trucking
Alone on the Open Road: Truckers Feel Like ‘Throwaway People’
May 22, 2017

The American Trucking Associations, citing its own research, claims that long-haul drivers with irregular routes can earn more than $53,000 a year. The group adds that many trucking companies offer signing bonuses to try to attract new workers, and that drivers who work for private corporate fleets often earnsalaries of more than $86,000 a year. Indeed, drivers who work as employees of companies like Walmart and UPS make a middle-class income, have predictable schedules and enjoy other benefits. Some drivers in the industry, including at UPS, are represented by the Teamsters union. But those drivers are the top echelon of the occupation and are not representative of the hundreds of thousands of people who toil in the industry’s underbelly.

Many long-haul truck drivers work for much smaller companies that pay modest rates — for one eight-day trip in 2013, Mr. Oliveira took home $482.85 for driving 6,156 miles — and few are unionized. These companies typically haul cargo for retailers, manufacturing companies and other businesses on a for-hire basis. They often get called at the last minute to pick up loads and compete intensely on price.
It was not always this way. The federal government began deregulating the trucking industry in the 1970s and 1980s, making it easier for new businesses to haul freight without seeking government approval for new routes. The previous requirements raised the cost of moving goods and stifled competition, but deregulation also took a toll on drivers by giving the industry a bigger financial incentive to lower costs and by weakening unions.
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Because driver pay is low, trucking companies in the truckload segment where drivers like Mr. Oliveira work have a turnover rate of about 95 percent, saidStephen Burks, a professor of economics at the University of Minnesota at Morris. (Mr. Burks also once worked as a truck driver.) Fear of recessions — and being stuck with high labor costs — make many companies reluctant to raise wages even if doing so would reduce turnover.
Desiree Wood, a driver who founded the group Real Women in Trucking, said that she once earned as little as 22 cents a mile as a driver for a trucking company in Tennessee. “If everybody is quitting, and they have a labor shortage, it’s probably because it is a crappy job,” she said.
Ms. Wood now has her own one-woman trucking operation and refuses jobs that don’t pay enough for her to break even — her cutoff is about $1.60 per mile. But she said it took her years to figure that out. Many younger people are lured into the profession by promises of bonuses and the freedom to work when they want, only to be disappointed by the reality of a grueling, underpaid job.
Not only is the trucking industry’s low-cost strategy hard on workers, but some experts say it also makes roads less safe by compelling workers to drive when they should rest. After spending many unpaid hours waiting to pick up a load, drivers put in long hours behind the wheel. That’s because it’s the only time they earn money, according to Michael Belzer, an economics professor at Wayne State University and the author of “Sweatshops on Wheels: Winners and Losers in Trucking Deregulation.” Federal regulations prohibit truck drivers from spending more than 11 hours in a 14-hour period behind the wheel. In practice, many work much more than that because nondriving hours are not counted.

If the industry raised wages, it’s clear that employers would find a larger labor pool. Instead, lobbyists for the industry are pushing the Trump administration to lower the minimum age for commercial driver’s licenses to 18 from 21. The administration seems receptive: Last month, the Department of Transportation announced that it wanted to move aheadon a pilot project that would allow 18-year-olds with the military equivalent of a commercial driver’s license to haul freight across state lines.

These are dangerous ideas. Lowering the age requirement could make roads less safe: Studies have consistently shown that teenagers are much more likely to be involved in fatal and other accidents. It makes little sense, then, to encourage younger people to get behind the wheel of a big rig weighing more than 33,000 pounds.

Imagine, however, that the government instead decided to use its prodding power to improve the lives and incomes of truck drivers. Officials could, for example, do more to crack down on companies that misclassify employees as contractors to avoid paying for expenses and guaranteeing a minimum wage. The government also ought to require that trucking companies and freight customers compensate drivers for every hour of work, including the hours spent picking up and dropping off loads. What’s more, Congress could pass a law making clear that regardless of how the industry pays drivers — whether on a per-hour or a per-mile basis — drivers are entitled to earn minimum wage and overtime for all of the hours they put in.

Such changes would increase costs for trucking companies, their customers and, ultimately, American shoppers. But paying truck drivers a living wage would neither imperil the economy nor cause spiraling inflation — the costs would be spread among the billions of tons of freight moved by truck each year.
Eventually, self-driving trucks might make these problems irrelevant by replacing drivers altogether. But experts agree that drivers will still be needed for many years. Computers will not be able to navigate all driving conditions, nor can they perform other job functions, like loading and unloading cargo. The trials for drivers aren’t going away for the foreseeable future.

Despite the bleak economics of their chosen occupation, many drivers don’t want to quit trucking. They are loath to trade in the cab of a big rig, and all the autonomy it offers, for an office cubicle or a factory floor. And they like seeing places that they may never have traveled to otherwise.
They also are increasingly frustrated that they are not fairly compensated for their work.
“I love what I do,” Mr. Oliveira said, “but there needs to be change in the industry for the next generation.”
 

ironpony

Professional Pot-Stirrer
Premium
I know.

This is opinion, and I see a lot of problems with the piece, as well as truth.

The income figures they use are AGI - that doesn't mention the value of the per diem deduction in those years.

The Prime guy that's suing?

No one held a gun to his head, forcing him to sign a lease.

Did he jump into a lease truck right out of training? If so, that explains a lot.

The shitty week they quote for this guy... was that because a trip he did that week rolled over to the next settlement?

Prime and other carriers that lease don't do themselves any favors by not doing more to educate these guys. They dangle bright shiny new trucks in front of these folks, call them "owners," and present gross revenue to the truck when they offer loads. There isn't a concerted effort to educate these folks about the business side of trucking.

I have little sympathy for guys like the Prime driver who let their greed inform their decision to sign a lease, don't educate themselves on how to be successful in trucking as a business, then go running to the courts because they got robbed.

Similarly, carriers like Prime do take advantage of unsophisticated folks, and much of what is happening here is their own damn fault.
 
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Electric Chicken

Well-Known Member
Premium
Yeah and the article complains that UPS, Walmart are the echelon while the one driver doesn't want to give up seeing the country.

Here's the thing. UPS and Walmart drivers are not sight-seeing. Same goes for other top paid drivers like ABF, FedEx, Old Dominion, YRF. You might even lump my rail job in there if we're talking paychecks.

It's gruelling too. It's usually at night, you don't see anything, and if you do it's the same thing over and over. It's a tight schedule of hustle and you don't have autonomy.

So it's not like driving for UPS is all

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Mike

Well-Known Member
Staff member
Precisely, and the experience should be used as a teaching moment.

OTOH, it's not like one can't make a lot of money in a lease truck. But you have to be smart about it.

And if one is truly obeying the law, how much money can they make?

Take produce loads, for example. How many drivers, company, lease purchase, leased to carrier, or independent, log honestly? How much of that time on the dock, counting freight, is spent on duty by most?

Companies simply do not want to go to a model of paying drivers hourly because high hourly wages would be demanded, and true honest logging of hours would take place.

Anybody that thinks the ELD crippled things, put the industry in a time clock and see Justin how bad that would screw things up.
 

Electric Chicken

Well-Known Member
Premium
Schneider tried to put us intermodals on hourly. We told them, based on the rates thrown out at us, that they'd see productivity drop like a rock. It was chicken feed compared to what we earn on the current mileage/load scale.

Of course it's only logical...their whole idea was to save on payroll. It's not like they were ever going to offer us more than we currently earn.
 

Rigjockey

In Gord we trust!
Supporter
A company near here started paying drivers by the hour even on long haul, because they were having a hard time finding drivers.
I talked to a driver and the rates seemed to be pretty good. $17 for on-duty time and from $23-25 per hour for driving time depending on experience.
That is all well and good if you don't mind running the eastern seaboard all the time and I do mind.
The driver also said said that they were saving some of the longer runs, midwest and further just to throw a bone to the drivers every once in a while. Up until now they would just sell and broker those loads out.
 

Mike

Well-Known Member
Staff member
Schneider tried to put us intermodals on hourly. We told them, based on the rates thrown out at us, that they'd see productivity drop like a rock. It was chicken feed compared to what we earn on the current mileage/load scale.

Of course it's only logical...their whole idea was to save on payroll. It's not like they were ever going to offer us more than we currently earn.

Exactly. They don’t want to pay a solid wages for hours truly spent on duty.

And if we did, as an industry, demand it, we would be considered the villains because we are somehow hijacking the economy with our evil demands for good wages.

I can just imagine the chaos that would ensue if companies across the board were forced to pay drivers in the same manner a place like Wal-Mart pays drivers.

For instance, sitting here at Kimberly Clark in Jenks, OK. waiting to get loaded. I’m logging off duty, but I’m reality I am on duty watching the dock light so I know to hook back up to the trailer and leave. Can you imagine every company paying a respectable hourly wage during that wait time, and having it logged on duty?

Can you imagine how rates being charged by fleets would quickly change to reflect this?

Can you imagine how quickly wait times would start decreasing?
 

Electric Chicken

Well-Known Member
Premium
Detention is the worst part of our gig. The rest of it averages out to about $32/hr on my shift due to minimal traffic, mostly dead gates where I get to pull right up without waiting, and very few lives.

They wanted to give us $20/hr which would be about a $400/week pay cut.
 

Mike

Well-Known Member
Staff member
They wanted to give us $20/hr which would be about a $400/week pay cut.

And as bad as that sounds, company OTR drivers are given less than that for detention, and have to give 2-3 hours free before they even start earning any at all.

Typical broker wants to pay a carrier $30/hr after a free 2-3 hours.
 

GAnthony

Retiring or will I retire?
Premium
And as bad as that sounds, company OTR drivers are given less than that for detention, and have to give 2-3 hours free before they even start earning any at all.

Typical broker wants to pay a carrier $30/hr after a free 2-3 hours.
which is only about one of the many reasons i stopped going long haul (OTR) or regional, or up and down the coast. i have found it best (for me) doing dedicated all these years, i forget exactly how many now, but i'd have to guess in the 25-30 year range.

doing dedicated, there simply is NO detention pay as we are constantly on the go, from the time we are let out of the warehouse. the only things holding us back are break downs, and severe weather. we get breakdown pay, as for severe weather, we just do the best we can, but we are paid salary, not hourly, so it can take a few extra hours during the weather.

we at my job, are not held back by waiting in line for another truck to be loaded or unloaded, or for dumb arse on the docks that is in a prissy mood.
 

Electric Chicken

Well-Known Member
Premium
And as bad as that sounds, company OTR drivers are given less than that for detention, and have to give 2-3 hours free before they even start earning any at all.

Typical broker wants to pay a carrier $30/hr after a free 2-3 hours.
Detention pays us 15/hr after two. So yeah I hate lives.

Now, on the plus side, they give us $10 flat just for it being a live no matter how long it takes, and they start the clock the minute we arrive instead of our appointment time. So if we can be there early, it behooves us to do so whether they'll unload us or not. There have been times I've been there 2 hours before they open for business, so I'm running out my free time by napping...then detention begins paying out before I'm ever in a door.
 

GAnthony

Retiring or will I retire?
Premium
Detention pays us 15/hr after two. So yeah I hate lives.

Now, on the plus side, they give us $10 flat just for it being a live no matter how long it takes, and they start the clock the minute we arrive instead of our appointment time. So if we can be there early, it behooves us to do so whether they'll unload us or not. There have been times I've been there 2 hours before they open for business, so I'm running out my free time by napping...then detention begins paying out before I'm ever in a door.
you know, we should never "have to give x number of hours"...we (in many cases) are on time. the dockworkers messed up somewhere or the booking agent screwed up and had us get there either a bit late, or a bit early, from what the dock needed us, and we have to GIVE them our time freely?

i don't see any of this bullshit getting better. how many trucking companies or o/o's actually demand quick service when they arrive on time, even early?

how many actually charge the dock money for this?

of course, those are rhetorical questions, no one has any exact numbers.
 

Electric Chicken

Well-Known Member
Premium
you know, we should never "have to give x number of hours"...we (in many cases) are on time. the dockworkers messed up somewhere or the booking agent screwed up and had us get there either a bit late, or a bit early, from what the dock needed us, and we have to GIVE them our time freely?

i don't see any of this bullshit getting better. how many trucking companies or o/o's actually demand quick service when they arrive on time, even early?

how many actually charge the dock money for this?

of course, those are rhetorical questions, no one has any exact numbers.
I dunno but I got pissed enough about Sygma that they've been switched to drop & hook.

Apparently there was only like two or three drivers who could do them and I was one. But they couldn't satisfy Amazon at the same time.

Now anyone can do Sygma and we can still keep Amazon happy. Often it's the same driver D&H at Sygma then running up to Amazon.

Amazing how that works.
 

Blood

Driveler Emeritus
But you know there would be plenty of drivers that would abuse hourly pay.

When we were staged at Stennis after Katrina, detention was 600 per day and there were so many drivers hiding out and waving other trucks around them that the Leo's who were coordinating delivery points started leaving notes...
To no avail.

They were also delivering free fuel for which the drivers presence was required.
Coordinators finally ot wise and started showing up with the fuel truck to dispatch trucks.
 

Mike

Well-Known Member
Staff member
But you know there would be plenty of drivers that would abuse hourly pay.

True.

For most situations, however, I think shippers/receivers would quickly institute documentation of arrival and departure times. This would mitigate abuse in that situation.

Every solution definitely creates a new set of problems.
 

Electric Chicken

Well-Known Member
Premium
True.

For most situations, however, I think shippers/receivers would quickly institute documentation of arrival and departure times. This would mitigate abuse in that situation.

Every solution definitely creates a new set of problems.
Oh like how Wakefern lies about what time they finished...and says they gave you a door when you checked in but actually didn't call you for another hour or two.

There's no one size fits all solution, unfortunately, because not everyone is honest. Literally nobody trusts anybody.
 

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