Dear U.S. Xpress – What the heck are you doing?

February 23, 2021

John Bendel

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U.S. Xpress was sued by a California driver to force hourly payment for nondriving work – like safety inspections. U.S. Xpress pays by the trip, not the hour. The driver’s lawsuit was turned away by a federal court, but the driver has appealed to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court in San Francisco, where U.S. Xpress is fighting it with support from the California Trucking Association and the ATA.

 

Dear U.S. Xpress: What the heck are you doing? Fighting in court to assure you don’t have to pay drivers for nondriving work?

You should be supporting the idea, which would improve the industry across the board precisely because it would be mandatory. And it should be mandatory nationally, not just in California.

You truckload folks say the competition that holds down costs for shippers is what holds down driver wages. You would gladly pay more were it not for that competition. How can you pay drivers more than your competitors? They would use the difference to scoop up your cost-conscious customers, you point out. Sure it’s cheap freight, but even cheap freight can be marginally profitable. It also can increase market share and help balance traffic lanes.

I understand the argument. But here’s an opportunity to improve driver income across the industry.

Mandatory pay for nondriving work would apply to everyone – including your competitors. It would not disrupt the competitive playing field.

All carriers would have to pay and adjust their wages accordingly. And the pay involved would be moderate at that – minimum wage.

Why wouldn’t you and your fellow carriers support that for the sake of improving driver compensation across the board? Why wouldn’t you support an idea that would help make a truck driving career more attractive?

Instead, you’re fighting something that would help the drivers you presumably want to attract. Despite your civilized tone and obvious business acumen, you’re behaving badly.

You’re not alone, of course. Virtually all carriers act badly especially in groups like the ATA. For example, longer, heavier trucks make the job of driving more demanding, but the ATA is out there pushing the idea.

How about 18-year-olds driving in interstate commerce? That might not deter mature people from driving careers on its face, but the long-term, overall impact would be to hold down wages. Teenagers would increase the pool of drivers, which in turn would put downward pressure on pay when higher pay is needed to attract drivers.

Then there are the just-plain-silly arguments you and the ATA make against mandatory nondriving pay. For example, the ATA claims “motor carriers have limited ability to supervise and monitor the productivity of the people who drive for them.”

Excuse me?

Carriers are swamped with vendors selling products that do just that. If a driver slams on the brakes in Salt Lake City, they can know it at headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla. In-cab cameras monitor driver behavior as if drivers were Las Vegas blackjack dealers. Instant cellular communications and automated logs monitor drivers more closely than human supervisors can monitor assembly line workers.

The ATA says mileage or trip pay incentivizes productivity. Of course it does. It also incentivizes speeding and skipping nonpaid activities like safety inspections.

Indeed, in sales pitches to shippers, carriers brag about how closely monitored their drivers are. By golly, they can predict a driver’s arrival within a 10-minute window!

And you, U.S. – may I call you U.S.? – claim all those nondriving functions and hours are accounted for in your mileage or trip pay. Really? Care to itemize them in your driver settlements?

Besides, we’re talking here about compensating drivers for their time. No one is talking about eliminating mileage pay. Truckload carriers can have both.

Dear U.S., you run a substantial recruiting organization just to fill your drivers’ seats. According to your website, your recruiters cover the phones 24 hours a day. Amanda, your website’s virtual recruiting assistant, promises to schedule an employment interview immediately. You offer a $4,000 bounty for each driver referral, presumably to current employees. You offer potential drivers up to $12,000 in bonuses. Don’t you find it curious all this is needed to attract applicants, even in recessionary times?

According to Transport Topics, your fleet comprises 4,900 company-owned tractors and 2,000 owner-operator tractors. I’m going to guess that means more than 6,000 drivers. At the last-reported rate, average driver turnover was 92% for big carriers. At that rate, you would hire (and lose) more than 5,000 drivers a year – almost 100 drivers a week. If your true numbers are lower, please forgive me. If they’re actually higher, shame on you.

The point is, given the expense and drain of executive talent it takes to recruit in such numbers, why on earth would you fight against an effort to increase driver income proportionally across the entire spectrum of motor carriers?

Truckload driver turnover is an abomination that should not exist.

In that context, your fight against nondriving pay is absurd. Besides, paying drivers for all their work is simply the right thing to do.

Hope this finds you well,

John Bendel LL

TruckTractorTrailer

John Bendel is Land Line’s contributing editor-at-large. A former trucker, former editor at National Lampoon and two trucking magazines, John is an author, photographer, and freelancer. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and many U.S. newspapers.