Road Forum

by Mark R. Taylor

“If shippers and receivers were forced to pay their own labor to unload and forced to pay the driver for time spent to get loaded and unloaded, the tables would turn.”

With June 2003, OOIDA’s Truck Safety Month rapidly approaching, there is much trucker buzz on docks, at truckstops, on the Truckin’ Bozo show, on Dave Nemo and on the CB. Everyone agrees — this is a much needed, well-thought plan from Jim Johnston, and we anticipate the massive support needed to send a loud message to brokers, dispatchers, shippers and receivers.

June is also a very busy time for produce. Time spent waiting at produce docks in California and Arizona can range from hours to days. As a team, remaining compliant may not have the devastating effect on us as it would a solo driver. However, the drive time to the delivery destination many times requires both drivers to have the maximum amount of drive time available.

After spending 10 hours on the dock, waiting to get loaded, how will dispatch handle a driver stating he cannot begin to drive, as his hours were burned up waiting, unpaid, at the dock?

We decided not to wait until June to log legal. Recently, my wife and co-driver, Renee, and I spent from 08:00 to 14:30 in Chula Vista, CA, unloading a load of chickens. The entire six and a half hours were logged as “on-duty, not driving” for Renee. She spent the entire six and a half hours trying to coordinate with the broker getting a truck from Mexico to the cold storage. They would not accept the freight without the Mexican truck to immediately load. They “cannot let the freight touch the ground,” she was told. Then, there was the language barrier, as no one at the dock spoke English, we do not speak Spanish and the buyer would not come translate.

We were then dispatched to Yuma and Nogales, AZ. I logged the drive time. We arrived in Yuma at 19:00 hours. We had to wait at the docks of Transwest No. 1 (19:00 to 22:00) and Yuma Express (22:15 to 04:15) until we were loaded. This was logged as “on-duty, not driving.” We were expected in Nogales “as soon as possible.” We arrived at 12:20 and finally got loaded and released at 20:30. As Renee worked diligently with the broker and dock workers to get us loaded, no one but us seemed to be in a hurry to get us on the road. Our appointment allowed us 24 hours to drive to Austin, TX. Again, as a team we were able to pull it off. Many solo drivers we talked to had no recourse but to drive all night after spending all day trying to get loaded and being sent to dock after dock.

We backed in the dock at the first of four stops in Austin, at 23:30 the next day. Unloaded by 01:00, we arrived at the next dock at 01:30, finally unloaded at 04:15. Stop three was from 04:45 to 07:30 and stop four was from 08:00 to 08:30. We had an hour and a half after the fourth stop before being dispatched to Dallas, headed to New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Robert, LA. It was another example of taking all evening to get loaded, all night driving and taking all day getting unloaded. At A&P, New Orleans, LA, alone, it was six hours logged “on-duty, not driving.”

We were late to our appointment in Baton Rouge due to the delay in getting unloaded at A&P. The reason? They wanted eight pallets of butter broken down to 28 pallets. We were unable to get our paperwork until the lumper completed this task and the receivers counted the product. We waited six hours, although their product was unloaded off our trailer within the first 15 minutes of backing in the dock, and the product could easily have been counted. This was “on duty, not driving.”

The only way to fix this problem is to show there is a problem. Shippers and receivers must be forced to load and unload in a timely manner. Drivers should be required to get the freight from point A to point B without worrying about assisting in the process of loading or unloading or paying an outrageous amount to a lumper. In the case of A&P, we were charged $80 for 732 cases.

Most drivers out here are hard working, law abiding and honest. We do our best to run safe. However, the pressure to break the rules is unbelievable. If the shippers and receivers were forced to pay their own labor to unload and forced to pay the driver for the time spent waiting to get loaded and unloaded, I am sure the tables would turn. As things stand now, the only one taking the financial loss and liability is the owner-operator trying to support a family.

Renee and I drive as a team, and the brokers we work with call us when they have a load that requires a reliable team operation. With fuel costs soaring, the excessive tax burden by the federal government and state governments and increasing insurance costs make it difficult to remain in the business. It takes both of us working together to run legal and meet the financial obligations, both business and personal.

Hypothetically speaking, you spend all day on the dock getting loaded or unloaded, and then drive all night with a “hot” load. You have an accident. If it’s your fault, if it’s their fault, if it’s nobody’s fault at all, it doesn’t matter. If you have a “hot” logbook, you lose your truck, home and livelihood. You face prison time. Where are the broker, dispatcher, shipper and receiver? Sitting behind a desk, with the normal dumbfounded look on their faces, denying any knowledge of anything.

Truck Safety Month is as much about the survival of the owner-operator as it is about safety. We must find our “niche” to separate us, the small owner-operator, from the large companies in order to command the higher freight rates necessary for our survival. If the owner-operator got paid for actual hours worked, perhaps many of our colleagues would not be having their trucks taken away as we watch fuel prices rise daily.

We must demand the brokers, shippers and receivers take responsibility for the timely loading and unloading of our trucks and see we get adequate compensation when we are detained. If we take the financial risk and responsibility from the owner-operator and lay it at the feet of the brokers, shippers and receivers, perhaps we will see a change. It will take all of us working together.

Thank you, Jim Johnston and OOIDA, for putting the tools and lawyers in place for us to take a stand for what is right.

Editor’s note: Mark Taylor is an owner-operator from Warren, AR. He first became an OOIDA member in 1987. Mark and his wife, Renee, operate Ugly Puppy Exploration Transport, sharing the driving responsibilities, with Mark doing the maintenance and Renee doing the bookkeeping.