OOIDA: Supply chain woes start with unfair compensation for truckers

October 19, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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The solution to address the nation’s supply chain challenges must start with treating truck drivers as essential workers.

That was the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s message to the U.S. Department of Transportation in response to a request for ideas on how to improve the supply chain. OOIDA, which represents more than 150,000 members who collectively own and operate more than 240,000 heavy-duty trucks, submitted a 14-page letter addressed to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg focused on such topics as excessive detention time, a lack of safe truck parking, and the absence of overtime pay.

The Oct. 18 letter was sent less than a week after the White House announced a plan to move toward 24/7 operations at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. In addition, Walmart, UPS, FedEx, Samsung, The Home Depot and Target plan to expand hours to move an additional 3,500 containers per week at night.

OOIDA told Buttigieg that those actions do not fix the underlying problems that small-business truckers have experienced for decades.

“It’s not realistic to expect the supply chain will suddenly operate efficiently on a 24/7 schedule, especially when drivers aren’t fully paid for their time,” OOIDA wrote in the letter signed by President and CEO Todd Spencer.

The Association said that the trucking industry already operates around the clock but truckers are often hindered by such factors as excessive detention time and a lack of truck parking.

“These pervasive problems must be fixed if the administration hopes to implement any significant supply chain solutions,” OOIDA wrote. “Additional concerns that need urgent attention from federal regulators and lawmakers include providing fair levels and methods of compensation, repealing the exemption that denies truckers guaranteed overtime pay, and better driver training programs.”

Contrary to reports from mainstream media, the Association maintains that the supply chain problems have nothing to do with a truck driver shortage. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Oct. 14 that an average of 50,000 commercial driver’s licenses and learner’s permits have been issued monthly in 2021.

Instead of a driver shortage, OOIDA points to a driver turnover rate of 90% or more at the large fleets caused by a lack of pay and poor working conditions. Fixing the problems with detention time, truck parking, and compensation are the first steps to lowering driver turnover and improving the supply chain, OOIDA said.

“As part of any efforts to fix the supply chain, DOT must prioritize resolving the underlying circumstances that have led to excessive driver turnover,” the Association wrote. “We support the administration’s efforts to improve the quality of trucking jobs, but this must start with treating drivers as essential workers which means valuing and compensating them for all of their time.”

Detention time

OOIDA pointed to excessive detention time, which is defined as waiting for more than two hours to be loaded or unloaded, as a key contributor to supply chain dysfunction. According to 2020 survey results from the OOIDA Foundation, drivers spend 17-29% of their time in detention.

Not only does excessive detention time create a backlog in the supply chain, but drivers are typically not paid for this time. The OOIDA Foundation reports that drivers are losing between $907 and $1,512 per week because of detention time.

Paying drivers for all of their time and repealing the overtime exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act will provide shippers and receivers the incentive to get a trucker loaded or unloaded more efficiently.

“Exempting drivers from guaranteed overtime pay increases problems with detention time because shippers, receivers and others in the industry have no financial incentive to load and unload trucks in an efficient manner,” OOIDA wrote. “If a shipper or receiver knows that they won’t be on the hook for overtime, they simply don’t care as much about respecting a driver’s time. If repealed, drivers would either be fairly compensated for the extra hours they work, or shippers and receivers would find ways to reduce delays to avoid paying overtime.

“Simply put, the current law ensures that a driver’s time is less valued than other professions. That must change.”

 Truck parking

OOIDA says the disrespect shown to truck drivers extends to after they leave the facility of a shipper or receiver. Truckers often have a difficult time finding a safe place to park. Despite multiple studies highlighting the problem, no significant funding has been provided to address the issue and provide truckers a safe place to rest after finishing a day’s work.

“Increasingly, drivers are forced to spend more and more of their on-duty time finding a place to park rather than keeping goods moving,” OOIDA wrote. “This makes it challenging for truckers to rest when they are tired, makes it difficult to comply with hours-of-service regulations and often forces them to park in hazardous locations.”

OOIDA has been working to address the truck parking crisis for years, but Congress appears poised to finish another session without providing any funding.

Other supply chain comments

OOIDA was not alone in its response to DOT’s request for ideas on how to improve the supply chain. The comment period closed Oct. 18, and 395 comments were submitted to the docket online.

Many drivers echoed OOIDA’s concerns. Kenny Ruff wrote that the administration needs to take steps to make truck driver a better long-term career.

“Nobody wants this job anymore,” Ruff wrote. “Trucks and truck drivers are taxed to death. Long gone are the days that trucking was a decent living. Make shippers and receivers not waste a trucker’s time or be prepared to pay detention pay.” LL

WW Williams

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.