Reader responses show some of us need thicker skin

by Bill Cameron

After writing this column for one-and-a-half years, I’ve noticed a trend developing in the responses that I receive.

Large carrier representatives, not surprisingly, never respond to my columns. Why would they? I relentlessly criticize everything from their business practices and hiring techniques, to their treatment of drivers, not restricted to pay levels. A large carrier would be foolish to even acknowledge my existence, much less admit to reading anything I write.

Smaller carrier representatives respond somewhat regularly, always favourably. I’m sure there are smaller trucking company owners and managers who disagree with me; apparently just strongly enough to call me out. Those who contact me tend to agree that the quality of available driving staff is worsening. They agree that we are increasingly over-legislated, and that our governments would be better servicing the industry not by passing more legislation, but by further investigating proposals for legislation which is currently ignored. Those who respond to my columns have all, unilaterally, condemned the practice of cutting rates just to keep the wheels turning. There seems to be no variance whatsoever in the opinions of us small operators.

So, in these two groups, there have been no unexpected or surprise reactions. The surprise responses have been from drivers and owner/operators. While some fit the same keyhole as small company owners, I soetimes receive angry e-mails from drivers. They never disagree when I suggest higher wages, or better highways. There’s no argument when I contend that new trucks are often a disappointment. However, I can really rile the troops when I suggest that drivers and owner/operators should, in any way, change their habits and/or practices. It appears that overall, we as drivers aren’t very thick-skinned or open-minded when it comes to subjects of self improvement.

With the nonsense that drivers and small company owners tolerate daily, I thought we’d be a little tougher. This industry seems to demand a higher level of resilience every day. Most angry e-mails arrive within days of a new issue, and often seem to have been written immediately after reading the column; heat of the moment so to speak.

One driver took offence to my assertion that drivers should be retested every 10-12 years. I don’t doubt he was the professional he claimed to be, I just think occasionally proving it is a good idea, otherwise complacency sets in and bad habits are deeply ingrained. A good example is the construction industry. Often, the long-time safe drivers are more likely than a rookie to flop a dump trailer. The rookie is often extra cautious, while the older crowd has become too comfortable.

When I wrote about the pros and cons of working for small or large carriers, one gentleman informed me that he worked for large carriers because “I don’t like to drive junk and then fight to be paid.” There are bad apples in every crate, and he apparently had found a few. Those of us who diligently maintain equipment and pay our bills would simply suggest he does more thorough research before accepting employment anywhere, regardless of fleet size.

When I wrote about the apparent lack of math skills by some drivers, I had my backside chewed some more. A driver took offence to my opinion that owner/operators striking for insufficient fuel surcharges should just change jobs. He cited an acquaintance who, if he resigned as an owner/op, would see his final pay plus several thousand dollars withheld for 90 days.

What kind of capable business person would sign that contract? As a carrier, I couldn’t find the nerve to ask someone to commit to those conditions. He also argued my statement about drivers paid percentage not understanding travelling to areas where backhauls were scarce or cheap; that the right carrier would charge enough one way to cover the return shortfall. He lectured me on knowing your cost per mile, and not working for less, ever.

This is a problem that carriers have to explain often. As we all know, there are likely only four loads home for every 10 trucks that travel to the New England states, so any available loads pay little. Hold your breath and stamp your feet all you like, it’s supply and demand. The rates home will not increase. Those who realize this can do well running east, or other directions, as long as the outbound rates are high. Trucking company owners understand this; too many drivers don’t, and seem very hesitant to listen. Don’t look at one-way revenue in these cases, worry about the round-trip.

I’ve never written anything here that I later regretted. If you disagree with me, I’m okay with that. We all have different ideas. But as I’ve told my kids, when you’re done being angry about what I said, give some thought to what it meant. Our driving improved as time moved on; maybe improving in other ways is to our benefit as well. This industry has a lot of issues. Somebody needs to make the first step towards improvements. Since drivers are the front line of the industry, maybe it should be us.

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  • Dear Editor,
    Mr. Cameron writes a good column and for once, i agre with him. And Bill… I do think about what you say.
    For long i have been stupefied by transport firms ” cutting rates to keep the freight moving”. This being different from backhaul prices at low or below cost. Being from an area that has that happen often, i’m don’t like it, but can’t fix it. All i can say is that using an opportunity to one’s advantage is hard to criticize, but costs have to be covered (my wages being one of them ) and the customer/shipper should pay appropriate fees. Truckers aren’t there to subsidize the industry. We may think we’re cutting our competitors’ throat, by undercutting prices, but we’re really cutting our own.
    Re driver testing. Is there a good reason why not.? We ALL get complacent over time and could use some stimulus to get in shape. I have a compromise suggestion. Since good skills and habits benefit everyone, how about that test every three years being paid for by the gov’t ( our time, public’s money ) And maybe a little pressure on the Insurance companies to lower rates too! Oh, and by the way, that needs to be a real test, not some token gesture done ” in house”. Fair and tough and representative of what We do. That means a guy who has run nothing but dry box for the last 20 years and never will, doesn’t need the same skills that a heavy equipment mover or a gravel hauler needs, even on public roads. I think there has to be a little detail and the tester has to be Neutral, ie., the M.T.O.
    We can make it if we have some thought, respect, incentive, and patience. So have a good TRIP , Driver.
    So long, JN.

  • “”Those who contact me tend to agree that the quality of available driving staff is worsening.””

    I am an older driver, who has joined the ranks of trucking after retiring from a career. I drove dump trucks as a kid and never lost my love for trucking, I am glad to return to it as a highway driver.

    But, listening to the radio, and seeing some of the antics of drivers, I really agree that the ‘quality’ is poor. Granted there are some respectable drivers who will ‘reprimand’ a guy on the radio for his lack of respect for others, and that’s good to see.

    But what’s sad is this ‘unprofessional’ drivers do present to the general population, a bad image of the industry at a time when we need their support to get better roads, more pay and respect.

    If we can’t respect each other, how can we expect to get respect from others…