TORONTO — U.S. legislation that would force shippers and receivers to pay truck drivers for dock delays may not be considered for months, if not years, says the executive vice president of the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association.
Todd Spencer told Todaystrucking.com that the bill – HR 756, introduced by Democrat Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon – will likely be bundled into an omnibus highway bill, and likely won’t come before Congress anytime soon.
"That legislation isn’t going anywhere on a timely basis simply because no one wants to talk about a meaningful way to fund the program, to put money into a highway bill," he says. "And that goes to political cowardice and political realities."
That’s a shame, he adds, because truck drivers have had to battle this problem for decades.
"The system is certainly broken, and it has been broken for a long time."
The refusal to pay drivers for the time they spend waiting at loading docks amounts to nothing less than theft, according to Spencer.
"If a shipper or receiver can delay a driver’s day, steal a driver’s time for their own convenience as many do, it is impossible for a driver to plan, to schedule, and for that matter, stay in compliance (with hours-of-service regulations)," he says. "It simply defies any kind of market-based economic sense. It shows that there really is no value placed on a driver’s time. Not by anyone in the supply chain."
Spencer is clearly frustrated by the position taken by the American Trucking Associations, which recently announced it does not support DeFazio’s bill.
"It is clearly ATA’s desire to see various entities call in and oppose the legislation moving anywhere," he says. "It speaks volumes about the lack of comprehension that some people have about how our industry really works."
Spencer dismissed ATA’s contention that driver compensation for delays should be handled through contract negotiations between shippers and carriers.
"It’s not as simple as saying these are things that are handled through contracts because most of the contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Obviously few carriers have any real legitimate leverage with shippers and receivers. The big ones especially are their bread and butter," he says.
John S. Roberts, an owner operator contracted to Transway Transport out of Humble, Tex., agrees. He says the company he works for often can’t collect detention fees from the customer.
"Since deregulation, a lot of the big carriers, like J.B. Hunt, Swift, and Schneider won’t charge detention time because if they did they’d lose the account," he says. "They wave the detention time to keep the customer, and the driver is not compensated because the carrier’s not getting any money for it."
He says he was recently detained for four hours on a waiting dock because the product wasn’t ready for transport when he arrived. "That’s four hours I’m not getting paid for," he says.
"Shippers should not be held to ‘some’ account for detention time, they need to be responsible for all account. If it’s a matter of first come, first served, and there are 10 trucks ahead of you, I can understand not holding them accountable for detention time. But when you’re given an appointment time, and you’re there at the appointed time but they take five or six hours to get you to the dock, they should have to pay for that."
That kind of delay is par for the course for Canadian owner-operator Dave Patraschuk of Creston, B.C.
"I see this all the time," he says. "It’s not unusual to have to wait six, seven hours before you’re loading up and on your way."
Worst of all, the delays make it impossible for him to comply with hours of service rules.
"I’m already in violation before I even get loaded. I once wasted 25 hours to get a load. All they do is apologize, and some place don’t even do that."
He says he can’t respond the way larger fleets can, by simply dropping off their trailers and coming back for them when they’re ready to go.
"I can’t leave my equipment behind. I run one truck, one trailer. I can’t afford to drop a trailer. I can’t afford to spend $50,000 or $60,000 on a specialized trailer to be left in someone’s yard to be beat up."
He says the standard detention fee for an owner-operator, $60 an hour, is down from where it used to be, up around $125 an hour.
Roberts says container work at shipping ports is the worst for driver detention.
"As an owner-operator, you can go down to the port at 8 o’clock in the morning to pick up one container and not get until 4 o’clock in the afternoon with that load. And you don’t get paid one dime for sitting in there," he says.
He says ATA is "way off base" in its position on the detention issue.
"f the ATA doesn’t push hard enough and there is a law to force shippers and consignees to pay fair detention pay, the ATA stands to lose a lot of financial backing. Do you know how many billions of dollars it will cost them — billions, not millions — if (customers) have to pay detention?"
It’s an oft-repeated accusation on truck-related websites, including comments left on this one.
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