I’m going to wade into meslippery’s favourite subject for a moment; paying drivers by the hour. Just how realistic is this? I was surprised to see Lou Smyrlis tweet the following during a speech by Kriska Transport’s Mark Seymour at the recent TransCore User Conference: ‘Paying by the mile is going to have to change: Seymour.’
That’s a pretty bold statement from a fleet executive, especially one as esteemed as Seymour, who currently also serves as chair of the Ontario Trucking Association. I wonder if that remark will bring some heat from his co-horts at OTA?
At any rate, it needed to be said. Driver pay isn’t sufficient and it’s encouraging that the industry’s top executives acknowledge that. Seymour isn’t the first to do so. At last year’s OTA convention, a panel of trucking executives was equally candid about the subject. Moderator David Bradley posed the question: “Drivers have been paid on a productivity basis for most of the industry’s history. Now with GPS and possibly EOBRs, you really can get a handle in terms of the driver’s performance. Is it time to pay drivers by the hour?”
To which Vaughn Sturgeon of Warren Transport (now Atlantica Diversified Transportation Systems) said: “If you think the driving force is going to continue on without demanding changes, you are fooling yourselves. Canada is approaching 70% of its population in the current workforce. We have a demographic tsunami heading our way. We are going to need to attract new people who are not used to our pay practices. They are just not going to put up with it.”
And then Bruno Muller of Caron Transportation added: “The whole discussion in this industry is how much more can we squeeze out of the driver? We are in for a crash down the road. If you are totally honest and account for what the driver gets paid for the total amount of hours he puts in, the guy is basically working for minimum wage most of the time. I don’t think there is any way to soften this. I believe drivers are underpaid not 5% or 10%, I think drastic numbers. And that carries through to the owner/operators. When the economy picks up, we haven’t got a chance of competing with other industries. And there will never come a day when we have a computer driving a truck. Take it to heart; we have a problem: Our people don’t get paid enough and it’s going to hurt us big time down the road.”
Those are some profound admissions from industry leaders. When speaking with our recently crowned Owner/Operator of the Year, Howard Brouwer, he said driver pay is the number one issue facing the industry. And while he tracks his costs meticulously and runs a smart operation, he would welcome the switch to hourly pay.
“It would take a lot of stress off you,” Brouwer said of hourly pay. “The biggest thing right now, with the hours-of-service, is the stress of running the miles in that 14-hour day, especially when you get sitting at a customer’s. The stress level goes sky high. If I sit, I get bored. When I get bored, I get tired. So now you have a bored, tired truck driver on the road. With hourly pay, you can be relaxed and do the job properly because you’re not worried about making up that time.”
This is no secret, but Brouwer says the onus is on carriers to make shippers accountable for detention time. Only then, is hourly pay feasible.
“The trucking industry has to look more at detention time at customers,” he said. “They don’t want to say to customers that ‘You have to pay for our equipment sitting in your driveway,’ but they have to. Customers demand 98% on-time delivery but then you sit in their yard for six hours waiting to get loaded.”
We seem to be at a tipping point. Drivers, for the most part, would welcome the switch to hourly pay. Forward-thinking fleet executives agree change is necessary. But as long as there are fly-by-night operators running with a blatant disregard for the regulations, as is the case today, it will never happen. Fortunately, technology is now allowing for the more effective and efficient enforcement of the rules. Carriers that don’t adhere to the regulations will soon be exposed and squeezed out. CSA 2010, EOBRs, satellite tracking – these are the great enablers for enforcement agencies that should spell the end for non-compliant carriers. Then, and only then, will it be possible to make some progress when it comes to how – and how much – drivers are paid.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies