Running legally or not - all owner/operators know what's involved here because they're the ones charged with coming up with the 'informal procedures' required to make delivery on time when the rest of...
Running legally or not – all owner/operators know what’s involved here because they’re the ones charged with coming up with the ‘informal procedures’ required to make delivery on time when the rest of the system breaks down.
The pattern is always the same: the load is probably late being dispatched, rush-hour traffic slows to a crawl and the line-up at the border stretches off into the distance. You arrive at the broker’s office and then spend the next hour or more acting as a courier back and forth with Customs. When you’re finally released, the delivery appointment is too close and the destination still too far away. You grit your teeth, grab another coffee and set off, determined to get the program back on track.
Somehow, you get to the customer’s dock, blaming the phantom flat tire for the delay. While you’re getting unloaded, you settle back with your logbook and try to come up with a ‘legal’ version of events that will hide the delays of the last several hours. You are now about to contribute to one of the biggest problems that plagues the North American trucking industry: you are fixing a problem which you didn’t create and for which you are unlikely to be paid. The final insult will be that you won’t be thanked or praised for the extra effort.
When drivers break the law on behalf of their carriers or shippers they establish a pattern of behavior that becomes the norm for the business. They take it upon themselves to not only complete a move in a manner that limits their earning possibilities, but one which leaves them open to the possibility of disastrous legal and financial consequences. I was once brought into the office of an outfit that I worked for several years ago after letting the dispatcher know that I was out of hours. He replied that that wasn’t possible. I countered with copies of the last eight days. He informed me that I was logging my trips all wrong because I was using Line 4 too much. The ‘recommended procedure’ was to book Line 4 for the first half hour after arrival (I’ve worked at other places where the limit was only 15 minutes) and then immediately book off on Line 1 for the duration of the stop. Several hours would now ‘magically’ appear allowing me to carry on down the road. Logbook tactics like these are considered ‘routine procedures’ in trucking. They solve a short-term irregularity but create a longer-term crisis that finds drivers going to extraordinary lengths to complete their trips. While you have been solving the problems connected with making a delivery, you have been losing an opportunity to get much-needed rest. Are you really ready to pound out a few hundred miles now? And if, by some unfortunate chance, someone piles into you during the trip, there’s no question that your logbook will be the most prominent exhibit during the resulting litigation even if you are found free of blame for the wreck. The legal implications and personal injury possibilities are staggering.
The consequences for logbook evasions are also a financial disadvantage; that is, unless you don’t care about being paid for the lost time that you have so generously donated to the carrier. The fact is that you were working when you said that you were off duty so the company is unlikely to honor an invoice for the delay time since it’s not in their interest to pay any extra charges or to have your logbook examined too closely. Unless you have a clause in your contract that specifies hourly payment for items that should be detailed on Line 4, then you are out of luck.
But the even larger issue is that you have bought into the industry argument that anything extra required to complete delivery is ‘built into the rate.’ We all recognize the handy phrase that carriers will use to avoid paying legitimate claims from their owner/operators; it’s the reason that revenue per mile is the carriers’ preferred method of owner/operator compensation. They are looking for a predictable mileage-oriented delivery scenario; and yet everyone in the trucking business knows that the real world functions according to the ticking of the clock: revenue per mile is at odds with the hours-of-service logbook and both of these fail to address the considerable unpaid time that owner/operators routinely surrender.
So where’s the payoff here?
The fact that running legally is even considered an issue should cause the industry to take a look at the way it treats the most resourceful members of this business. The Truckload Carriers Association estimates that a truck driver’s declared 60 hours per week is in fact closer to 100 hours of actual work. When truckers routinely work this kind of schedule they are assisting the industry to avoid charging for the complete service that is being performed. That extra 40 hours, which should be properly compensated, is given away for free in unpaid waiting time at customers’ docks, in traffic slowdowns, at border crossings, during breakdown delays and other miscellaneous stoppages not initiated by the driver. Fabricating a logbook fiction, while maintaining that the rules are being followed, makes everyone party to a lie. Factory workers don’t punch out when the machine breaks down or the raw materials are late…why should you?
We live in an age when instant gratification is considered to be a right; when just-in-time scheduling assumes that only the shippers’ and receivers’ priorities have any reality, when consumers demand (and receive) products and services for the absolute bottom price and where otherwise reasonable delays are called ‘service failures’ which are severely financially penalized. Is it any wonder then that the most resourceful component of the driving community is left to come up with ‘inventive strategies’ to get the job done? There’s no other way to explain the ‘freebies’ that all owner/operators have routinely dispensed to their companies all these years. It’s why they customarily put in 12-hour days, or more, when the average industrial worker puts in eight.
It does no one in the trucking business any good to continually see the erosion of their own earnings while their customers are posting profitable end-of-quarter statements. Just as in OBAC’s policy position related to fuel surcharges (as discussed in last month’s article), the ultimate cost for transportation should be borne by the end user: the consumer. And it is the responsibility of the carriers to have the courage to educate their customers about the fact that the ‘loose ends’ should not be tied up by owner/operators who are at the bottom of the transport food chain.
I will hazard a guess that virtually all owner/operators would support a working arrangement where they are paid for everything that they do, including all the items specified by law under Line 4. Full compensation for this part of the job description recognizes that truck drivers have limits to their endurance and willingness to be exploited.
– A long time O/O, Mike Smith is a member of OBAC’s board-of-directors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.