By Suzanne Stempinski
Rising costs of doing business, flat freight rates – the combination has historically put professional truck drivers in a real pinch. Whether you’re driving your own truck or someone else’s, it’s time to negotiate for more money – or at the very least figure out a way to keep more of what you’re making.
Put your facts and figures together. If you’re an owner-operator, know what it costs to operate your truck on a cost-per-mile basis. Know how those figures have changed over the past year – and even over the past 6 months. Fuel, labor rates – up. Tire prices – up. What kind of percentages? Did your tires cost $400 last year, and this year they’re at $425? That’s a 9.4 percent increase – and you need to know how it impacts your bottom line. Take that approach with all your operating costs. If you run roughly the same miles from year to year, it’s pretty easy to see the patterns of your revenue and expenses.
And don’t forget to pay yourself a wage.
Strategize with other folks who haul for the same people you do. If you’re leased to a company, talk with other owner-operators or drivers. You already know you’re in the same boat. You might want to consider putting together a committee. If you work through a broker, talk with other guys who haul for the same broker. Figure out what you can realistically hope to gain and write it all down. Focus on one or two top issues like more money and the need for prompt loading/unloading – which leads to the opportunity to make more money.
Set up a meeting with the right person. That sounds self-explanatory, doesn’t it? Well, finding the right “Head Fred” might not be that easy. While you deal with your dispatcher on a daily basis, he/she’s probably not the one who decides how much you get paid. If you’re with a big company, it’s probably not the safety manager either. You want to talk to the person or people who can be in the best position to promote a change for you. Find out who that is so you won’t be wasting your well-prepared speech on the wrong person. Also, be sure to make an appointment; waltzing in unexpected won’t cut it.
If you’re taking the “committee” approach, be sure that you mention that you’ll have several people participating “on behalf of a group of concerned, committed owner-operators or drivers.” If you’re not going into this meeting by yourself, it helps to have a multiple-truck owner as part of your meeting group. There is strength in numbers, and the more representation you have, the better leverage you have (sounds like one of the founding principles of OOIDA, doesn’t it?). Schedule the meeting with enough lead time that everyone involved can be present. It helps to have a written outline, with copies for everyone at the meeting (including the “other side”) to serve as a reminder of why you are there. Be sure you highlight your key areas of concern and stay on track.
Present your concerns, requests and information in a calm, professional manner. Do not whine, do not gripe, do not raise your voice or swear. Keep focused on the need for more money – not 25 things you hate about your dispatcher, the freight and the customers. Remember, your goal is to come away with more money. This is all about business – the successful operation of your business. You and your company or broker are actually partners – if you’re successful, so are they. They need to be reminded that they depend upon you as well. Be sure to point out that you have not been late for deliveries; remind them of difficult customers with whom you’ve worked particularly well; point out your superior safety rating – it provides them with good sales tools as well as preferred insurance rates.
Remind them it costs thousands to replace one single driver. Multiply that by drivers gone bye-bye who need replaced. Doesn’t it make sense to invest in the good drivers they still have?
Be flexible and willing to listen to possible compromise solutions. Maybe instead of running from the Midwest to California, you’ll get paid better to run to Las Vegas. If you can find freight that moves you from there – you’re money ahead. Maybe you could consider changing your preferred lane. That way, instead of being parked over a weekend and waiting until Monday to get empty and reload, you can spend more time at home. Even if the gross revenue is a little lower, less downtime means more money in your pocket. Maybe they can’t do anything today, but they ask you to hang in with them for a couple of weeks or months while they try to come up with a plan that will allow you to keep working together. Are you willing to run over a holiday if the freight pays you double the usual rate with a guarantee of no sitting before reloading or a roundtrip rate for a bounce home?
Have a plan in mind if the answer is “no.” If your company or broker is unwilling or unable to work with you, then what? Maybe it’s time to consider making a change. You don’t have to jump ship right away. If you are an owner-operator, you may have plates and permits that are already paid for. If you’re a driver, your motor carrier may be providing your life and medical insurance.
But there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking a good hard look at what else is out there. After all, what do you have to lose – other than a situation that is already making you poor and unhappy?
Be thankful for the opportunity to work with good people when they say “yes.” They’re listening and responsive to your needs – but then you already knew that. And you’re going to just keep doing what you’ve been doing so well – getting the job done safely and with tremendous pride – and more money in your pocket.
Editor’s note: Field Editor Suzanne Stempinski lives in Beecher, IL. She has more than 15 years’ experience as a professional truck driver and has driven more than 1.5 million safe miles.
Have a plan in mind if the answer is “no.” If your company or
broker is unwilling or unable to work with you,
maybe it’s time to make a change.
Desperate times call for desperate tactics
Editor’s note: This could also be called “It takes a worried man to sing a worried song.” This little story and the driver mentioned are absolutely made up and not even close to being based on a true account.
Did you hear about the guy who phoned the trucking company for a reference on driver John Bigler?
“Hello, could you connect me to the person who gives references about drivers? I’d like to find out if John Bigler is a good, loyal, accident-free, neat, professional-acting person.”
The voice on the other end said, “Hold on, you better talk to the boss.”
A minute later, a voice said, “Who is this calling about my driver Bigler? Are you trying to hire him?”
“I just need to know if he is a detail-oriented person, keeps good records ...”
“Who is this? Is he looking for a driving job elsewhere?”
“I just need to know if he were not working for you, would he be eligible for rehire?”
“Yes, all that! And at the end of this week, we are going to give him a surprise year-end bonus, give him more miles, an increased fuel surcharge and beef up his pay package. So he probably won’t be available to go to work for you! Who is this?”
“This is John Bigler. I’ve been trying to talk to you for three months. I’ll be in at the end of the week to pick up that bonus and talk about the pay.”