A while ago, I wrote a column on driver and owner/operator pay. You may remember that I only covered the two most common methods: mileage and percentage. I purposely didn’t touch the subject of hourly pay for highway drivers at the time, for a simple reason; I’m convinced it won’t work. Not now, not ever.
Periodically, a representative of a large trucking company will raise the issue as something the industry may need to investigate, in the interest of improving the way drivers are paid. They often refer to hourly pay as something they wish will become reality eventually. My cynical mind will suggest to you that nothing could be further from their wish list.
But if the spokesperson comes from a large enough carrier to be considered an industry leader, I’d like to issue a challenge: If you really wish to see divers paid hourly, then do it. Somebody needs to take the first step, to get that proverbial ball rolling. I’m not holding my breath.
I’ve argued long and loud for driver pay to increase. I believe in a minimum immediate base pay of 50 cents per mile plus extras, on its way to 60 cents. With few exceptions, you don’t see that pay level, so really, how serious is this industry about increasing pay levels?
I have a few reasons – based on real experience – to believe hourly pay, especially with the increasingly lax work ethic of today’s society, won’t work. It’s a shame, because so many of you would do well for yourselves – and your employer. As usual, some apples will spoil the whole basket.
I’m a flatbed hauler and I hate sitting still, so I make sure every move counts. Straps are stowed the same way every trip, and tarps are rolled up tightly. I tarp a 48-ft. load of lumber in about 35 minutes, B-trains in about 70 minutes, then I’m moving again. A friend of mine, a highly experienced and safe operator, undeniably among the best, takes two hours to tarp a 48-ft. trailer.
As he is his own company owner, he can take as long as he pleases. It affects nobody but him, so I’m not criticizing his style; I’m just raising an obvious point. Assuming we tarp a couple loads per week, who’d you rather pay hourly, him or me?
We once had an owner/operator who could barely squeak out 2,000 miles per week, while his co-workers ran 20-25% more – to the same destinations – in the same time. Imagine him as an hourly paid driver. No trucking company could exist with a workforce like that. Your labour costs varying 25% between the most and least efficient drivers would create an unprofitable, unworkable situation.
We once had a driver who was quite proud of his self-proclaimed “perfect” pre-trips.
Every day, he would spend 45 minutes pre-tripping a tandem tractor and tandem trailer, and still drive away with a paper cup I had placed over a trailer hub cap marked “Report this item.”
The customers loved him, because of his cheery disposition and ability to chat at length with perfect strangers as easily as old acquaintances. Can you imagine what his time card would look like?
Possibly the most glaring fly in the ointment of hourly pay is honesty and integrity; rather, its unfortunate rarity in recent years.
Even with electronic logs, a dishonest driver could improperly register several hours per week. Imagine the truck that goes to a very large distribution centre. Did the driver really require four hours to load and unload, or did it happen quickly, with the balance of that time spent sleeping? Good luck always being able to track down the proper representative to verify your driver’s claims, or utilizing time stamps.
We all grumble about being stuck in Toronto rush hour traffic, but sometimes, you’ll find that no thought was put into time management and the driver stopped just short of Toronto for a lengthy meal.
If they had grabbed a sandwich to go, they’d have missed rush hour, saved at least an hour’s driving, and stopped outside the city for a relaxing dinner. The carrier would pay for this lack of planning with an hourly system.
With every example, you can see the possible lost revenue from an hourly pay scenario. Multiply these losses by a few hundred drivers at a large company, and the potential loss will be crippling.
I know of one carrier using a fair pay system that I really like. They pay by mileage, which includes a pre-determined allotted time for loading, unloading, fuelling and crossing the border.
Any extra delays are paid hourly. This only works because the carrier is relatively small, with a long-serving, well-trusted staff. They have a reasonably small customer base, making the verification of delays easier. This system wouldn’t work, however, for a large carrier or one with frequent driver turnover.
I haven’t done an about-face. Most drivers and owner/operators deserve a pay increase, but we need to stop researching the dead ends and find workable solutions, soon. Hourly pay isn’t that silver bullet.
Bill Cameron and his wife Nancy own and operate Parks Transportation. Bill can be reached at email@example.com.