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  Director's Chair

NOVEMBER 1, 2002
Doing Time; Waiting Time, That Is

How many times have we heard the expression, 'Hurry up and wait'? You're loaded and ready to put down the miles. The shipper took his time getting that last pallet stretch-wrapped, the office took even longer to get the paperwork together, and now all advantage has been lost because you're facing heavy traffic on your way out of town.

Or, you've been stuck in a steel yard waiting for a welder to put the finishing touches to a structural girder that has to be on the job site before an impossible deadline expires. All of a sudden their problem has become yours to solve. It's standard procedure in this business. Make up for lost time, and somehow make delivery before the customer files a service failure claim. So, you skip that last cup of coffee, and dinner too, promising yourself to get some sleep as soon as the trip is over. Sound familiar?
And now, after putting in the hard miles, usually overnight, compromising your usual excellent fuel economy and fighting yet another rush hour, you arrive at the designated time, which has been looming over your whole trip like a threat, only to discover that there are several other trucks in line ahead of you, all with the same appointment time. They're all waiting on the receiver to remove their rush loads, too.

Quickly you become resigned to the situation and decide that at least you can now get some of the sleep which you so desperately need. At least you'll be fresh for the rest of the day. But no…You now have to remain awake to move ahead in line to avoid being passed over in the unloading order. The receiver certainly doesn't care whether you miss your turn and the other drivers are usually in such a hurry themselves that, well…you snooze, you lose!
You can now add to the misery by realizing that, because you're operating on a percentage-revenue basis, you will not be paid for this lost time, despite the fact that you were advised of the consequences of missing your 'appointment'. No sleep, lost time, and now the final insult: you wait free because 'it's built into the rate.'
These are clear-cut instances of the trucker is being used as free, temporary, warehousing-on-wheels while the customer figures out what to do. We're not talking here about cases where the driver leaves early on a trip on the off chance that they can get a quick unloading before the rush starts.

Nor are we referring to a driver who misses an appointment and is relegated to the back of the line. But when a truck has been scheduled in advance for a pick-up or delivery, there is a reasonable expectation that the transfer of goods must take place in a timely fashion.

Like any contractual arrangement, if the driver arrives at the correct time, the onus should be on the shipper/receiver to fulfill their part of the process, or be compelled to pay for the privilege of detaining an outside contractor's equipment.  
In an industry where, more than any other, time is money, truck drivers routinely give up considerable amounts of both because it's expected, -- no, demanded -- by shippers and receivers and ultimately by the carriers desperate to keep their customers in this hyper-competitive business.
Just how much time and money is lost? It's difficult to estimate because of the variety of working environments for the roughly 50,000 owner-operators in Canada, but at a minimum, if those operators routinely give up at least two hours a day in unpaid waiting time, then, based on a 230 day working year and suggesting that $40.00 per hour is a reasonable figure for the time of the driver and truck, then roughly $690 million is lost each year because owner operators have been shut out of a significant legitimate share of the revenue-sharing equation.

That's approximately $18,400 per owner-operator, annually. This staggering figure makes a joke of the efforts of every self-employed driver to realize a reasonable return on investment. Can you imagine a lawyer, doctor, or anyone working in a unionized environment putting up with a situation like this?

Owner-operators do it on a regular basis, and it's considered one of the many costs of doing business, 'taking the bad with the good' as the expression goes.

A business loss of a 'mere' $18,400 isn't going to shake the foundations of the Canadian trucking establishment, but it does a whole lot of damage to each owner-operator's maintenance and household budgets. And when the losses amount to more than half a billion dollars a year, it's time to address the issue.

Trucks don't come cheap and neither does the wherewithal required to keep them moving. If trucks are held up for any reason beyond the owner's operational capacity, then the buck stops, taxes don't get paid and obligations fail to be met.

We encourage owner-operators to respond by visiting our website and share with us a typical episode involving unpaid waiting time. Let us know where, when, for whom, and for how long you sat, unpaid. These testimonials together with the hard numbers of lost revenue due to forced downtime will form the basis of an action plan which features the fine tuning of the owner-operator contract through OBAC's contract advisory service, a subject which will be dealt with at length in a future column.

The erosion of the financial stability of the owner-operator population can't be allowed to continue. If a significant portion of this business group, all in the same position and all facing the same undermining of their future were to act with one voice, the noise couldn't fail to be heard. OBAC's motto is "On Your Own But Not Alone." There's power in numbers, and OBAC intends to harness that energy to effect real change in the fortunes of Canada's owner-operators.        




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