Carriers want drivers on the road, not sitting on the dock

No where is the axiom "time is money" more appropriate than at the loading dock. Recent studies by the Truckload Carriers Assn. (TCA) found that inefficiencies during loading and unloading cost the industry more than $1.5 billion annually, and no one is disputing that figure.

According to TCA president Lana Batts, the association's surveys show that refrigerated-carrier drivers, for example, spend more than 40 hours a week at shippers' and receivers' docks, and TL dry-van drivers more than 30. Much of that time is spent simply waiting.

This downtime is particularly vexing because it not only cuts into carriers' profits, but affects driver retention and recruitment. "Drivers want to drive; they don't want to load and unload. They also don't like the poor way some receivers treat them, and that leads to job dissatisfaction," says Batts. She adds that while no driver should be asked to load or unload in the first place, it's particularly difficult for many female drivers to handle hefty loads. This, Batts says, further cuts into the pool of potential drivers by excluding many women.

While shippers and receivers must take some blame for the situation, the trucking industry itself started the precedent of having drivers load and unload cargo shortly after deregulation. In an effort to woo customers, the industry gave away drivers' time.

Now, however, fundamental changes in the structure of our economy, new federal regulations, and even the courts have combined to begin changing how trucks are loaded and unloaded.

In today's economy, the most common business model is one where technological advances are used to squeeze out inefficiencies and increase profits. When technology tops out, companies often look to employee work practices, which are harder to quantify and take longer to implement.

This is where loading and unloading enters the picture for carriers and shippers alike. "We believe it's in the best interest of the shippers to have drivers driving," says Edward Emmett, president and COO of the National Industrial Transportation League, which is helping to develop "best practices" by studying shippers that are doing it right. "We look at truckers as our partners; it's not good business to abuse them," he adds.

While Emmett admits that some shippers and receivers do take advantage of carriers, he believes that truckers have ultimate control. He says carriers should refuse to haul for companies that ask them to break regulations in order to meet a deadline.

As part of its education initiative, the TCA announced in December that it was accepting proposals for researchers to analyze the driver waiting problem and offer suggestions to fix it. A finished report is to be delivered in May. The TCA has also rewritten its code of ethics, putting more emphasis on loading and unloading practices - a subject that was skimmed when the code was produced in 1990. In addition, www.dockreport.com, a joint effort between TCA and CompuNet Credit Services, is a Web site that allows truckers to share grievances about specific facilities.

Part of the new high-efficiency business model also requires companies to stick to their core competencies. "Food companies should outsource unloading, because that's not what they do best. They're in the food business," says Tom Caudell, CEO of Progressive Logistics Services of Atlanta, which provides loading, unloading, and management information services. "And carriers should haul freight because that's what they do best."

The Dept. of Transportation is also helping to bring the issue to the table with its expected hours-of-service regulations, which will probably bundle waiting time within a driver's on-duty period. This would put pressure on shippers and receivers to load and unload more quickly and efficiently; otherwise carriers will have to charge driving time for dock-waiting time.

A third push is coming from the courts. In a November consent decree between the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Assn. and truck driver Douglas B. Bailey (plaintiff) and Detroit-based Michigan Repacking & Produce Co. (defendant), the company must provide free unloading of palletized cargo and post signs telling drivers about this policy. The company is also prohibited from charging gate fees or other fees to drivers during regular loading and unloading periods.

The significance of the settlement, which was in response to a lawsuit charging that Michigan Repacking & Produce Co. violated the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, is that it puts the onus on receivers to handle their own freight, especially if it's on pallets. It also strengthened the federal regulation that forbids shippers from coercing drivers to hire lumpers.

Theoretically, if all parties can iron out their differences and agree that drivers should drive, shippers should load, and receivers should unload, then all could reap the benefits of higher profits, better drivers and less turnover, and more efficient operations.

The American Trucking Assns. today announced the select group of drivers who have been chosen to represent the industry for the 2000 America's Road Team. The drivers -all of whom have million-mile, accident-free records - will spend the next two years speaking to the media and the public about trucking's commitment to safety.

The following drivers have been appointed Road Team Captains: Glen Ackerman, ABF Freight System; Darren Beard, Con-Way Central Express; Roland Bolduc, Federal Express; Ronald Brotherton, Roadway Express; Lyle Favreau, Crete Carrier Corp.; Marty and Lisa Fortun, Schneider National Carriers; Jeffery Kreutztrager, Werner Enterprises; William Mayhew, ABF Freight System; Tim McCrary, CRST; Donald Nehring, FedEx Ground; Ron Presley, M.S. Carriers; David A. Wright, Roadway Express.

Team members will provide the motoring public with tips for sharing the road safely with trucks and tractor-trailers. They will also visit terminals and truck stops, where they'll talk with other drivers and drivers-in-training about the importance of safety and professionalism.