A cruise down recruiters row at MATS shows carriers pay much alike

April 10, 2019

Tom Berg


What are carriers offering for pay today? A walk down recruiters’ row at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., showed that there’s a rather tight range of remuneration for owner-operators, usually percentage of revenue. As in previous years, carrier recruiters set up shop in the Kentucky Expo Center’s West Wing, and we did a totally unscientific survey of some of them at this year’s show.

Of course, there’s a lot more to income than basic pay, and some items are traditional:

  • Reimbursement for a tractor’s base plate.
  • Pass-through of fuel surcharges and detention fees.
  • Bonuses for special handling, longevity, and other performance-related categories.
  • Fuel and tire discounts.
  • Access to group life and health insurance.

Most companies offer these and sometimes more.

There’s competition for good people – a very valuable commodity in any timeframe, but especially today with drugs and soiled driving records too common. Because people with good records are hard to find, wise managers share the wealth because replacing good contractors is as hard or harder than finding good hired drivers.

Other considerations besides pay include the type of haul – dry freight, refrigerated cargoes, building supplies, machinery, liquids of all kinds – which operators might nor might not want to deal with. Operations can be local, regional or long haul, and the amount of promised home time varies. It’s difficult to put numbers to those considerations. Also hard to quantify is how dispatchers and managers treat contractors, but that can be picked up from truckers already signed on to a carrier. One question anybody contemplating a move ought to ask him or herself: Are things at the other company really much better than where I am? Are the trucks really greener over there?

We don’t get into the “extras” paid by the various carriers we visited with at MATS, just their basic pay. We found that the going rates are similar but did vary slightly with the company and the nature of its business. What really happens with owner-operators and company drivers might closely resemble what recruiters promise, or might not. Again, ask people who already work or pull for a company, but remember that some of them may be braggers, gripers or malcontents, and take what they say with a grain – or maybe a bag – of salt.

Ace Doran, Owensboro, Ky., carries a variety of commodities with vans, flatbeds, lowboys and others pays 76% of linehaul for owner-operators with their own trailers, according to Jeff Roach, a regional representative. Those who pull company trailers get 66% of linehaul. Operators who scan shipping documents and email them in can be paid the same day the run is finished, Roach said. He added that some operators gross $200,000 a year in revenue. Ace Doran is owned by Bennett Motor Express, which has several other operations, including munitions hauling.

A.R.T. Transport, Van Buren, Ark., is “a 100% owner-operator company” with 35 to 40 trucks, and “we’re growing, slow but steady,” said Jason Decker, the firm’s vice president, who with wife, Maria, operations manager, was crewing a recruiting booth at the show. A.R.T. pays 72% of linehaul for its dry and temperature-controlled cargoes. The company claims to treat its owner-operators “like family.” Turnover is very low for a truckload operation, 22% to 25% lately because of retirements, Maria said. Otherwise, “actual turnover is about 15%. Drivers stay. One guy has been with us since day one – 14 years.”

Heniff Transportation Systems, Oak Brook, Ill., runs tankers carrying food-grade and nonedible liquids. “Right now, no petroleum, but that might change soon,” explained Chris Harbin, director of recruitment and retention. Heniff pays owner-operators 68% of revenue if the operator’s tractor has a pump (for off-loading product) and a few percentage points less without a pump (product is pumped off by customers). Most contractors take home $4,000 to $6,000 per week, Harbin said. Company drivers make $25 per hour plus 25% of the haul.

Roadrunner Transportation Systems, with recruiting offices in Cudahy, Wis., operates vans, reefers, flatbeds, “everything but tankers,” said recruiter Mark Holmes. It has 500-plus owner-operators, and some of them, as well as some company drivers, run as teams. Roadrunner pays 74% to 84% of revenue, depending on whether the owner-operator has his own trailer. Power-only operators can rent a company trailer for about $230 a week, which includes all maintenance. Holmes said high-mile operators can gross $200,000 to $225,000 a year.

Roehl Transport, Marshfield, Wis., pays 70% of revenue to owner-operators for pulling the company’s vans, curtain-siders, reefers and flatbeds that carry dry freight and everything from cheese and pizza to steel, lumber and building supplies, said Tim Norton, vice president of recruiting. He had several pieces of literature that paint a bright picture for prospective business people who contract to Roehl. Among many other things, “We won’t put our logo on your truck – we’ll put your logo on your truck. If you don’t have a graphic identity for your business, we’ll help you create one.”

Roehl claims to be in the top third of motor carriers for pay, and Norton said some contractors gross $185,000 annually.

Unimark Truck Transport, Joplin, Mo., is a drive-away operation using company drivers. They ferry freshly built trucks from terminals near assembly plants to dealers across the country, so they’re always driving new trucks, the company boasts. Pay varies from 56 cents per mile for one truck to 97 cents for four trucks. Unimark drivers are typically out for 20 days and off for two, according to Greg McLamore, himself a driver who was on recruiting duty at MATS. Drivers are members of the Machinists Union and get good benefits.

The operation is unusual, though normal for drive-away outfits: One, two or three trucks are saddle-mounted on a lead truck that tows them, or chained aboard company-owned lowboys and hauled. Drivers must unsaddle or unload the trucks, reinstall axle shafts or driveshafts (removed for transit), and park the trucks at dealerships. Drivers stay in motels. When runs are done, they Lyft or Uber their way to airports or car rental agencies and return to a home base at company expense.

Military veterans valuable

Honorably serving military personnel and veterans are a sought-after category of people because companies find that they’re good workers. They come from a structured environment and are used to discipline. They show up on time, do a good job, and are loyal if treated right. Trucking companies are among employers who line up to hire or sign them as contractors.

One of those outfits is Contract Freighters Inc., Joplin, Mo., where Neil Lamont is the veterans advocate. CFI goes to military bases to talk with soldiers, sailors and marines who are about to leave their branches of service and re-enter civilian life. Lamont himself was career Army.

“I retired after 22 years and nine months,” he said, and since has been with CFI. He said he’s proud of his service and believes in his mission of recruiting military people.

CFI takes part in the government’s Military Apprenticeship Program, wherein an individual can get a waiver on the skills portion in the commercial driver’s license application process if a commander certifies that the person knows how to operate the appropriate equipment. All he or she has to do is study for the CDL written tests and pass them. Trucking companies then train recruits on driving their vehicles and operations details like paperwork and various procedures.

“Contract Freighters will take any MOS (military occupational specialty) and train them with pay,” Lamont said. “We have a special decal that we apply to a veteran’s truck, if he wants. And we have six military-wrap trucks” with military-themed montages that are recruiting tools and assigned to high-performing veteran drivers. CFI, primarily a dry-van operator, seeks company drivers and independent contractors.

Neil Lamont, Contract Freighters Inc.
Neil Lamont, veterans advocate at Contract Freighters Inc., with a truck bearing a special “True to the Troops” decal. CFI is among trucking companies who seek military veterans to thank them for their service and because they make good workers. CFI and other carriers were recruiting owner-operators and company drivers at MATS 2019.