Tough call: Mercer cuts 200 leased truckers

| 3/6/2009

The trucking industry was hit with another round of job cuts recently – sidelining yet another group of owner-operators.

Dale Corum, general manager at Mercer Transportation confirmed to Land Line Magazine on Friday, March 6, that hundreds of owner-operators who were leased to the company, including some OOIDA members, were cut loose – adding to the casualties of the tough economic times facing the country.

“Unfortunately, this was something we had to do to keep our fleet healthy,” Corum told Land Line Magazine. “We are hoping that when the economic climate improves that we can call some of these guys back up and put them to work for us, but freight has to pick up a great deal before this happens.”

Corum, who has been with Mercer for 32 years, said the past three weeks have been the most “gut-wrenching” of his entire career there.

“I’ve known some of these guys for a long time, and you build these relationships. So it’s hard when you have to make these decisions that are going to put people out of work because these are real good people,” he said. “I hope they land on their feet.”

One OOIDA member from Florida found out last week his lease with Mercer had been terminated while waiting to be loaded at a truck stop. The 31-year trucking veteran, who didn’t want to be named because he said he would lease back on to Mercer “in a heartbeat” if they called, said he had heard rumors from other owner-operators that this was coming. However, he didn’t feel it would affect him because he had been with the company for many years and had a good safety record.

“In a way, I do feel like I was tossed out with the trash, but I also know that Mercer has always been good to me in the past,” he told Land Line earlier this week. “I also know the economy has gone haywire and they’ve had to make changes because there’s either no freight or cheap freight.”

Corum said Mercer has reduced its fleet of owner-operators from more than 2,100 to approximately 1,900 in the past three weeks. He said Mercer is also looking to unload its trailers and get out of the lease-purchase business as well.

He said while it was a brutal process, it was necessary in order to keep the rest of their fleet healthy. Corum said all of Mercer’s departments met and weighed many factors when basing their decision on who to let go.

“Those that showed up on two or more of our lists with safety concerns, logbook issues or guys we had received reference checks from other companies that let us know they were looking elsewhere, we looked at those guys first,” he said.

Corum said they terminated the leases of some of their owner-operators who were Mercer’s highest revenue producers because they appeared on multiple lists.

“It wasn’t like we just kept our top earners and let the others go, because some were making a lot of money for us, but we had to look at everything,” he said.

He added that for the most part Mercer isn’t hiring on any new owner-operators unless the right one comes along that fills a niche they need in their operation. Some of Mercer’s truck coordinators have also been let go because of the lack of available freight.

“Right now, we are doing a lot of cross-training and figuring out how we can do things better so we will be prepared when freight picks back up, but who knows how long that’s going to be,” Corum said.

The OOIDA member from Florida said he just wished he would have had a heads-up beforehand or an opportunity to change some things so he could keep running for Mercer. Although he owns all of his own equipment, he said he was a little picky about which loads he took. He didn’t want to take freight that would take him into an area where there was no freight and where he would have to sit for days to wait.

“I am not angry. I am hurt and stunned because I planned to finish out my trucking career with them,” he said.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer