Driver pay takes spotlight in Senate subcommittee hearing

By Jami Jones, senior editor | 4/28/2010

How truck drivers make money hasn’t typically been a big topic of conversation in Congressional hearings on safety in the industry. But that wasn’t the case in a Senate subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, April 28.

The Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security hearing on Oversight of the Motor Carrier Safety Efforts centered on many of the standard topics – hours of service, electronic on-board recorders, etc. – and their impact on safety.

However, in testimony from both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board administrators, both acknowledged that economic pressures facing truck drivers do play a role in safety.

Later in the hearing, during a question-and-answer session with a panel of industry stakeholders – including Executive Vice President Todd Spencer of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association – Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, took a long hard look at the issue of driver pay and its potential negative impact on safety.

“I’d like to look at the safety issue from the perspective – and Mr. Spencer I’d like you to comment on this – of this practice in the industry to pay for miles driven as opposed to hours,” McCaskill said to kick off her turn in questioning the panel.

“Clearly, that is contributing to this problem. The loading and unloading time is in fact uncompensated from what I’ve learned. Is that correct, Mr. Spencer?”

Spencer explained how many drivers in the industry lose between 34 and 44 hours each week – uncompensated – while waiting at the docks. Then they are left with a limited number of on-duty miles to drive as many miles as possible to earn some money.

“When the only way that they get paid is for miles driven, then you can understand how long that workweek is,” Spencer said.

McCaskill dug in further looking at how with the industry paying by the mile only, there’s no real reflection of drivers actually being paid for the time they are actually working. And she recognized that within the current system, loading and unloading time on a logbook is going to be where a driver is going to fudge.

McCaskill turned to Dave Osiecki, senior vice president of policy and regulatory affairs with the American Trucking Associations, and asked if the ATA was opposed to paying by the hours as opposed to miles driven.

While Osiecki did not endorse either method of payment, he did refer to a case study connecting driver pay to safety.

In that study, Osiecki said a motor carrier raised per mile pay and had an improvement in safety performance. Osiecki credited the increase in pay to helping the company retain seasoned truck drivers with good safety performance.

McCaskill ended her line of questioning on driver pay by encouraging ATA to find a motor carrier willing to perform a case study on hourly pay.

“Common sense would dictate that we need to look at paying hourly. None of these people are lazy people. It’s not like all of a sudden these drivers are going to put their feet up and not do the job,” McCaskill said. “I don’t think it’s been studied, because the money driving the system doesn’t want it.” 

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