Question: I haul quite a bit of produce, and I have found myself on several occasions involved in loads that were rejected due to the fault of the shipper. On most of these, I experienced delays while another buyer or distressed merchandise handler was found, and on some, I had to drive to another location to deliver. Can I charge anything for this or is it part of the produce business where I have to take the good with the bad?
Answer: Yes, you can (and should) charge a fee for the extra miles you travel to take the product to the new buyer’s location. In addition, you can charge a layover fee for your down time while a new buyer is found (also called demurrage). Most shippers do not want to compound their problems with the load, so they are usually willing to pay these fees within reason.
Deal with this situation in a calm, cool and collected matter and, as always, get the details of these charges and terms of their payment in writing. Remember, there are certainly those out there who will readily agree to pay you and then try to weasel out after you deliver. Also remember that your contract charged you with the responsibility of transporting this load from point A to point B. You do not have to take it anywhere else if you don’t desire as you have fulfilled your end of the contract. Again, there are those out there who will view you as a troublemaker if you refuse to go elsewhere, and those types usually find a way to delay payment of your freight for whatever reason. I don’t like it anymore than you do, but it happens.
Question: I have a broker who owes me money for a load I hauled 58 days ago. Each day is a new excuse, and the check never comes. I have a plan to get another load from him and then disappear with it until he comes up with my money. Is this legal, and do you think I should do this?
Answer: I think it is a very bad idea. You are opening yourself up to all kinds of potential problems if you hijack this load. First, look at it morally: What could happen if the shoe were on the other foot? What if the receiver owes the shipper money, and when you pull up to load, the shipper informs you that he isn’t loading your truck until the receiver pays him what he is owed? You’re caught in the middle of a situation that you had nothing to do with. What if the receiver and the shipper are in a dispute on another load, and when you arrive, the receiver informs you that he isn’t unloading your truck until the shipper makes adjustments on the claim? Same thing. You’re caught in the middle.
This is where your actions would place the shipper and the receiver of this load in the middle of a situation they had nothing to do with and had no control over.
Now, on to your risks if you “disappear” with this load.
The shipper is apt to call the authorities and say you have stolen this load. Based on my years in this business, most authorities are reluctant to get involved for jurisdictional reasons, but I have seen the FBI go after hijacked loads on more than one occasion. Even if your plan went flawlessly, and you got the broker to wire your money, you will probably be late delivering, and the receiver will whack you with late charges, market decline, buying against your account and all those other things that receivers charge truckers when they’re late. In this case, the receiver would be well within his or her right to charge you if you were in fact late and they documented their losses. Also, you run the risk of damaging the product if you hold it too long and could face a claim in that regard as well.
I just think there are other ways to resolve this matter that are more diplomatic and less extreme.
Question: Do you know of any publications or Web sites that offer information on produce hauling? I would like to have something that I could keep in my truck and refer to on occasion for product handling, temperatures and stuff like that. Anything out there?
Answer: This question was put to me at the ITS show in Vegas, and I answered it this way. I know for a fact that USDA has several booklets and information sheets on produce care and handling while in transit. I searched Yahoo for “produce transport” and came up with nothing except a couple of sites in Australia. Then I tried “produce trucking,” “produce transportation” and “produce transport care” and came up with a site in Canada and another in South Africa. If anyone out there knows of a source for this information, write or e-mail me at Land Line. Incidentally, we at GAIN LLC offer a service called Produce Transport Support Service, and we have some pretty good info included in our booklet that accompanies that service.
Question: I have read in your column many times that you always tell us drivers to pulp the produce. What happens when we get there and they won’t let us pulp it? Now what?
Answer: Tell them you are driving away. Easy for me to say? Sure, but it should be easier for you to say. Too many drivers let themselves be bullied into doing things with produce loads that are against their better judgment. Most of the time in those situations, they get stuck. Why would a shipper refuse to let you pulp the product unless something was afoul with the temperature? The shipper wants to move the product. They know it won’t get fresh over time. If you threaten to drive away, they will probably relent. If not, you probably drove away from a claim.
Editor’s note: Randy Gunderman is the president of GAIN LLC. You can reach him at (913) 262-1574, or e-mail him at email@example.com.