I received a call from a produce trucker the other day who asked me what can be done about a broker who makes promises that the trucker can't possibly keep. The trucker said that the broker told the receiver that the truck would arrive on a certain day, which was too tight to be done legally. On top of this, there was a delay in loading at the shippers. The trucker figured that he must choose between the lesser of two evils–run illegally, or face the receiver buying against the account when he arrived late. The trucker wanted to know if I knew of any other options.
Unfortunately, this type of problem is common in the produce industry. Part of the problem as I see it is that the parties that cause these problems are simply able to get away with it. Some truck brokers tell shippers and receivers what they want to hear to get the load and leave the trucker holding the bag. Some shippers delay the loading process by not having the product ready or having the trucker make unscheduled multiple pick ups while the clock is ticking on the load's transit time. By the time the trucker makes it to the receivers, some receivers have bought against the account or are planning to charge the trucker with late fees or some other type of deduction, usually with little or no documentation. In all of these scenarios the trucker ends up the loser, when in fact, the trucker did nothing wrong.
Anyone entering into an "iffy" load, hoping everything will be all right, is asking for trouble
So what can the trucker do in this type of situation? First of all, use a good broker. The Red Book (or whatever service you use) should be able to tell you if the broker offering you this load has a reputation for making promises on behalf of the trucker and bailing out at the first sign of trouble. If the broker who contacted you has this type of reputation, don't deal with him. Life is too short for unwarranted claims and there are plenty of good brokers out there. Find one. You should also check out the shipper and receiver. Are they reputable? If not, load for someone that is.
All of these things are easy for me to tell you, but I believe that anyone who enters into an "iffy" load and hopes everything will be all right is asking for trouble. I see attitudes changing for the better these days in regard to truckers who haul produce. Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of those firms out there who would claim against the truck in a heartbeat. But there are also shippers, brokers, and receivers who are beginning to realize that there are only so many truckers who are qualified to haul produce. Reputable shippers, receivers, and brokers don't want a claim any more than you do. I see more firms who are willing to work more closely with truckers. I see brokers who are giving far more instructions than in years past in an effort to avoid claims. I see receivers who are doing a better job of documenting claims and working with produce carriers. Is this an across-the-board trend? No way, but it's there.
I read with great interest an article in The Packer titled "Suppliers face fines for trucking violations." This article dealt with the trucker being responsible for his or her own actions under the current law in regard to violations of driving regulations. However, part of the new $176 billion transportation bill passed in 1998 could shift the burden to suppliers to make sure that the truckers comply with the law. The article went on to say that nothing had been mandated yet, but the topic of produce trucking was discussed at the annual meeting of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League at the end of March. The future shortage of drivers and problems with recruiting produce haulers were also discussed, according to the article.
I think it's great that someone else besides produce truckers are discussing the problems faced by produce truckers. As I said many times before, without you, how would produce get to market? Most of it wouldn't. Without you, what will happen to freight rates? They'll skyrocket. Without your knowledge, what will happen to quality? It will suffer. Face it, the industry needs you. Maybe, just maybe, we're about to turn the corner. Maybe the attitude about produce haulers is starting to change. If so, it's about time.