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Road Forum
The only thing worse than working is working for free
A semiregular forum that offers the perspectives of our trucking readers. Your thoughts, your opinions, no fences.

Dave Faltermeier, OOIDA member from Kansas City, MO

I started driving when I was 21, and I’m 39 now. I guess I’ve had close to 100-plus jobs in the trucking industry.

The month I turned 21, I was on the road-running team, but it took a lot of door knocking and rejection from companies, because I had no experience, wasn’t 25 years old and could not afford to go to truckdriving school (idiot school). I actually started running for 3 cents a mile for 90 days to get the experience, and I learned real fast that we truckers not only load, but unload our own trucks — and, oh yes, we get to see if we are smart enough to count the freight then stand around and wait for an able body to sign our freight bills, or check us into a dock door at 4 a.m. after driving all night and day to get there.

I also learned real quick that trucking meant long hours in the summer; starve to death in the winter; not much in the way of benefits, paid vacation or sick days. In 18 years, I’ve been through the gamut. I’ve been cheated out of pay and lied to about how I was going to get paid, if paid at all. I’ve been given some of the most worn-out, crappiest equipment to drive, lied to about how often they would get me home, lied to about the loading and unloading pay — like getting $40 for eight hours worth of hard work (fingerprint load) — not to mention I had to drive previously 10 to 12 hours or longer to get there. Now, I’m really tired.

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that eight hours into $40 equals five bucks an hour. That included getting checked in at a receiver, getting to the dock door, getting your paperwork checked in, and maybe, if you’re lucky, getting a pallet jack that actually works, only to be told it has to come off your skids and put onto their tiny, tiny skids, while their hourly employee sits on a forklift and watches you work because it’s not his job. OK, whatever.

I went to work for one company that actually wanted you to hang around on your own time and wait for loads to come in, sometimes as much as three to five hours a day, and then wanted you to wash your company truck on your own time.

My daddy told me there was one thing worse than working, and that was working for free. So, at a company drivers meeting one day, with about 15 other company drivers present, I asked the owner if he would mind coming down and mowing my grass and weed eating around my house and trimming my trees. I asked him if during the winter he would mind coming down and shoveling the ice and snow off my driveway for free. That means no money.

His response was ‘hell no!’

Well, I said, “Then why the sam hill do I want to work for you for free?” What’s good for us should be good for all, him too. I then gave him my two-week notice and told him I’d be quitting. I forgot to tell him I wouldn’t be finishing out my last two weeks working for him for free. I just never bothered to show up and finish out.

The unloading, the working on trucks on your own time, any vehicle maintenance, breakdown time and delay time is time a person should be compensated for. Hell, these damned CEOs are sure getting their time compensated for. We truckdrivers can’t even get a per diem for being gone for days at a time, but a salesman gets an expense account, company credit card, company car (sometimes), hotels paid for and usually a decent night’s rest.

Truckers push through the night and we-e-e-e hours of the morning and pay way too much for truckstop food and $5 showers. Boy, what a life — all at our expense, right on the spot, no per diem given to us on our checks the next week. It’s just expected, just like unloading that load for free, or for practically nothing.

A few years ago, I had to turn in an employer for failure to pay the required wage on a federal highway job. I went directly to the Department of Labor in Kansas, met with the FBI and the fair contracting association. The employer ended up having to back-pay all 21 drivers to the tune of around $100,000 plus fines, plus his attorney’s fees.

I didn’t have any attorney’s fees. Nope, I made the federal government get up off their asses and go to work to get our money back. I backed them in a corner and made it very clear I wanted my money or else.

No other occupation treats their professionals this bad. Had I known then what I know now, I never would of taken up this career. It has not been worth all I’ve had to go through just to have a job, and I’ll be damned if I ever want to own my own truck. I see what Prime and the other carriers are doing to owner-operators out there. It’s shameful.

My stepbrother is a machinist. He has it better than I do, makes more money, works fewer hours and has better benefits. My father retired from the pipe-fitters union and has a damned good retirement after 32 years.

Know what I’ve got for a retirement? You guessed it: Zero, after 18 years of working night and day, weekends, holidays, birthdays, you name it.

The trucking industry is a joke. They spend money advertising for help, such as stickers on backs of trailers, want ads in every major newspaper across the country, backs of magazines, billboards, radio advertising, television advertising.

If they put that revenue toward driver pay and compensation and benefits, there might not be such turnover.

I don’t see planes with stickers on the back of them advertising for pilots and stewardesses, baggage handlers or air traffic controllers. I don’t see plumbing companies advertising like crazy; electricians or welders either.

In other words, this industry hasn’t hit the bottom of the barrel, as some say it has. No, it’s went plumb through the bottom, sailed right through it and kept right on going.

I see drivers pushed, forced or coerced into risking their lives — as well as the rest of us out here on the nation’s highways — for a damn old load of freight. I never, ever let a dispatcher, terminal manager, broker or what not tell me how to drive my truck, tell me when I’m supposed to be tired and when I’m not, or tell me if I’m supposed to be sick or well. Hell, I’m only human, and you can only go on so long under this 70-, 80-, 100-plus-hour work week before you give out. I only want to work about 45 to 55 hours a week.

I now get paid by the hour with overtime over eight and am happier and more rested than I’ve been in a long time. I actually have a life, and it ain’t living out of a cab of a truck.

I feel the industry has let a lot of us down, mainly due to all-out corporate greed, corruption, bad management, poor work ethics and a lack of concern for their fellow mankind and the motoring public.

I’ve never had an accident in 18 years, not even a fender bender. The professional drivers who are left are on their way out the door, like I soon will be.

You’re right on target, trying to get drivers and owner-operators compensated for their time and getting them detention time. Hell, find me a plumber or electrician who will sit in your driveway all day for free, waiting for you to come home from work; I want their number.

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