How much should truckers make? Is it enough? How much is too much?

Harry Rudolfs

A recent posting of the Sunshine List of Ontario employees that showed over half of Toronto police employees making more than $100,000 per year in 2014 has  raised some eyebrows. One constable raked in more than $244,000. The thing is that Toronto cops can book overtime duty when working for contractors or the city outside of their regular shift. These are cushy assignments where a cop stands around a construction site sipping coffee watching potholes being filled, or hangs around the craft wagon during a film shoot or whatever.

Toronto cops are the highest paid in the nation, and an argument could be made that these high salaries keep the men in blue on the straight and narrow, and prevent them from getting involved in “illegal” activities to supplement their income. This argument falls flat when you consider the allegations against some executive members of the OPP police association, all of whom made well over $100K and who, after a raid of their offices in Barrie, Ont., allegedly were playing fast and loose with their association’s funds.

Higher incomes do not reflect ethical behavior. Consider the case of disgraced former Conservative senator Pamela Wallin. The woman was sitting on the boards of four corporations and I assume banking some healthy checks from them, at the same time as she was Chancellor of the University of Guelph, as well as a sitting senator. Still, it is alleged, she or her assistant were bilking the Canadian taxpayer for tens of thousands of dollars by billing for senate expenses while attending to her other business interests.

It seems too much is not enough, and I won’t even get into the Mike Duffy show that is currently being played out in a court in Ottawa. I mean he’s got this little piss-ass cottage in PEI that he’s hardly ever seen, and a fairly modest dwelling in Ottawa, and he still has to accept a $90,000 check from Stephen Harper’s assistant to cover his improprieties. I mean, what do these people do with their money, spend it on expensive recreational drugs, take jet flights to the Riviera, buy Picassos from art dealers?

Don’t get me started on these senators. Apparently there are 40 or more of them under investigation and they are not afraid to nickel and dime the public for every little paper clip, and who don’t like the camembert cheese served on airlines. (Who gets camembert on airlines? A bag of peanuts is all I’ve ever been offered). This is a house filled to the rafters with liberal and conservative sycophants, yes-men and women, patsies, party hacks and gold diggers who, like Duffy and Wallin, apparently think they are entitled to a free lunch off the backs of hard-working Canadians. I suspect the Greek philosopher Diogenes would have a tough time finding an honest senator.

And what happened to Harper-the-reformer, who was going to change this cabal of over-priveledged lords and ladies? Nothing, is the answer–he continues to stack the chamber, like the PMs before him, with his buddies and ideological faithful. I heard one rumour that the members of the rock band RUSH were being considered for senatorships!!!  But meaningful change to this dysfunctional body is not even on the horizon. The day the senate is abolished can not come soon enough, in my opinion.

But getting back to truck drivers, I’ve known a couple of company drivers (unionized, albeit) who made more than $100,000. One fellow used to camp in his van in the parking lot and take any extra run that would come up. Another company I worked at had the top seniority man pulling in better than $100 K as he booked any overtime he could, often working seven days a week.

Both of these previous employers, I suspect,  did not like the idea of a truck driver pulling in better than $100K, no matter how hard they worked, and both of them got out of the transport business, opting for a third-party carrier in one case, and in the other, offering trucks and runs to drivers and getting rid of company drivers that way.

Still I think it’s rare to see a company driver making anywhere close to $100,000. I drive for a top-echelon employer and I made $66,000 last year working 45 hours per week. I could do a little bit better if I liked to work overtime, but I don’t, leaving that for the keeners who are plentiful at my company.

But this topic keeps coming up. How much is a decent wage for a truck driver? Clue: It’s more than $18/hr, but of course that depends on where you live and what you do. Living expenses are higher in Vancouver or Toronto and truckers’ wager usually reflect that. $25 would be a good base rate to start, but I suspect most transport companies aren’t quite there. I think even the ones that are touted as the best in the industry seem to come up short in this regard.

Harry Rudolfs

Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.

With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude.

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  • So i have a question about this?
    If we pay athletes millions of dollars to play a game we as kids played for nothing and everybody says they deserve it, why is it if a driver makes over 45 or 50 thousand dollars people think we are over paid.
    if politicians make hundreds of thousands dollars in salary and benefits people say they are underpaid and we need to pay more so we can get better people to run in elections.
    But if a driver says they need more money we are greedy and should be happy what we make.
    Or if we need more the companies say well work harder go more miles or take a different run that pays better ect ect
    But because we are not considered a profession they can pay less.
    We are called professional drivers it covers a multitude of sins in this industry but not more money.
    When every thing goes up we need a little more too to keep up too.
    We have also been told if we get a raise it will cause the supply chain to have to raise prices and maybe cause some parts to go out of business because of a driver making a needed raise to offset their costs of living.
    So as u see we are not allowed to get a raise cause it will cost some part of the supply chain to fail.
    So i guess we need not ask for fear of causing the economy to collapse.

  • Harry, I enjoy your blogs but don’t really need your editorial on Canadian politics? McLeans is hiring if that’s the road you choose to take.

    As far as driver pay is concerned, shouldn’t the imaginary “driver shortage” have taken care of this by now? When there’s a shortage of any other commodity the price/value of that commodity sky rockets…guess all the experts were wrong on this one weren’t they?

  • Harry if everyone paid $66k for 45 hours
    That would solve the driver shortage.
    No need for a task force to over think it.

  • I think your right to a degree Harry and I always enjoy your insights, good rant by the way Lewis Black would be smiling. I believe like some of the previous folks who have commented, the market will take this situation over and the likely result will be a win win situation for trucking companies and drivers/ O/O’s. Trucking companies will benefit from over capacity which will drive up rates and drivers will benefit from the same situation, this is how the system works, always has!
    Take Good Care!

  • Underpaid WHAT! I am an O/O for a reputable steel service centre for about 19 yrs. We as a group of O/O have seen very little of any kind of increase since early 90ts. Everything has increased even Tims coffee. What we were making in the early 90ts was good but this is 2015. Change needs to happen. We all have been told over and over that its the competition that’s causing this rate cutting and so on. How do you stop that? If it could be stopped we might have a chance. Have a great day

  • Just wait when you start using e-log. That’s going to be really interesting. No more hidden hours or driving. But guess what, you will make even less than you make now! Good luck!

    • Been there, done that. Liked the elogs, but you are right on with the pay decrease and lack of flexibility. Also had to start scanning in signed paperwork, then receipts, then trip log. Lots of office work was dowmloaded to us drivers that was previously done by office staff. If you did not do it, or made mistakes, no safety bonus! Yeah, really got porked on that one…

  • Harry, enjoyed rant and appreciate your question. I started driving in late 70s…boy was it different then. I love the industry, but have been hearing about the driver shortage almost my entire career, and i agree that if there really was a severe shortage finding drivers would not be an issue. What i cant ignore, other than the lack of pay keeping up, is the increased time i work for nothing. You need a new york lawyer to explain pay packages these days, but i see one common trend….slight increases in mileage/% rate to appease drivers, but it always comes with increased non-revenue time. A few times i have kept track of my hours…real hours, not log book hours, and ÷ gross pay by those hours over a month to get a decent average. This includes all extra pay except safety bonus (only because it is only paid quarterly), and i average $18-19$/hr. I only make a decent living because i work crazy hours. I can see how other careers look good in comparison.

  • In 1980 a truck driver made $8.00 per hour doing local work home every night The O.P.P. were making $9.00 to $12.50 per hour the truck driver would have the same take home pay at year with overtime after 44 hours per week.A truck driver gross pay in 2 years would buy a semidetached house in Toronto. Truck drivers are very much underpaid today A local driver should make $24.00 plus per hour.O.T.R. driver should make$300.00 per 11 hour day and the shortage will be gone.

    • Thats right Steve. When i first started driving, a good friend of mine went into the local steel mill as a millwright. He made good money, as did i, even though i worked a few more hrs than he did. Over the years i watched the gap develop in our pay, and when he retired with a pension 3 yrs ago, he was making almost $30,000 more than me per year….and i am still working (no pension either). Guys went into trucking because they liked it, and pay was same as you could make in a factory job. No more. When they advertise for factory work, they get huge lineups. Why do you think that is?

  • This is a good start. Buts lets be real. I live in Alberta where even now house prices seem dauntingly high. They are undoubtedly higher in GTA, Montreal and Vancouver. Pick whichever geographic location you wish and determine the purchase price of a comfortable house. The average price of a house in Canada in 2014 was $474,000.00. By your personal income example you could afford a house worth $276,000 if you could scratch together a $20,000.00 downpayment. Your payments would be $1370/ month. You would have to have an income of $7000.00 a month to afford a $363,000.00 house. That makes about $35 an hour for about 46 hours per week. I don’t think that is asking too much for a driver to earn a wage that will let him afford housing within the region he is working in.

  • I started driving in the mid 70s. The money was quite good back then. I make a lot more now, but the problem is the cost of living has risen faster than my wage increases. I am only a few years from retirement, so I should be able to get by till then. But for younger drivers, it must be more difficult to afford large items such as houses. Truck drivers should be paid better for their time. there are many instances where we are not compensated for the work we do.

  • Some drivers are grossly underpaid for their value, some aren’t worth minimum wage. Drive any highway, you can pick out which is which.
    I pay my guys 22.00/hr from the time they roll out the gate, til the time they’re back. I ask them to knock off any hours they were doing their own thing. With only a few drivers, I can do that, and not worry about getting milked. They seem quite happy.
    One of the problems is how to determine when a driver is working, and is he working efficiently. Should it take an hour to tarp that load? or 5? Did he let 4 guys in front of him in line because he’s on by the hour? You have all seen stuff like that.
    The industry (owners AND drivers) has yet to come up with a fair, honest way to determine pay, especially for long haul. E-logs won’t cure it either. Compared to other industries, a long haul driver should make at least 250.00-300.00 per work day at least, plus another amount for overnighting away from home.
    In an ideal world, I think local guys are worth 60000-70000, long haul should be at least 90000, with meals paid. To get that, both sides have to change their ways. Rates have to go up (7% EBTDA is not enough), and some drivers need to change their ways. Walking into a customer wearing ripped sweatpants, a stinky T-shirt and swearing every other word while complaining does not exude professionalism.

  • Let the market sort it out. If there really is a driver shortage wouldn’t freight be stacked up all over the place? Industry turnover is high, but maybe that’s just the way it is for a profession that requires people to be away from home for days and weeks at a time. Driver turnover does not equate to driver shortage.

  • Freightliner unveils first North American autonomous truck tonight. Can Peterbilt and Volvo and the others be far behind? I don’t think so.

  • we can lay the some of the blame on the low wages on the government that was in power ( liberals ?) ( conservatives are no better) when they changed the hours of service regulations back around 2002. not only did the regulations change, but so did the rules in the labour code change so that we had to work longer in order to make the same monies as overtime was changed to be paid from 50 to 60 hrs . if you were putting in a 60 hr week before this time , it meant a 10 % reduction in your standard of living . I also have to laugh at these companies ( and governments ) that say that they can’t find driver’s or worker’s so have to bring in people from other countries ( Mexico , phillipines , etc.) they should finish the sentence by saying for the cheap wages that we want to pay so we can make more monies for our shareholder’s. i have 2 son’s that i hoped would take over my solo truck which i have since sold and although they have driven off-road since the were 15, did not want to become driver’s because of the long hours for low pay and the hassles with the mermaids and trying to collect your monies.

    • The current government was told us in 2005 in 2005 money a OTR truck should make at least $21.00 per hour with overtime after 10 hours per day and $120.00 per layover when on the road.