OOIDA: Pay drivers and give them a future and they'll stay

 (Photo: Shutterstock)

(Photo: Shutterstock)

FreightWaves reached out to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) for their perspective on the current state of affairs in trucking. FreightWaves wants to hear from all sectors of the trucking and transportation segment, and we’ve heard a lot about the legislation and activism from the ATA in recent weeks and months. We also want to engage in a dialog from the fragmented industry interests, seeking points of agreement, as well as naming points of contention.

Points of agreement? Well, there aren’t many. “On tolling and broader highway policies there may be general agreement,” says president Todd Spencer.

Spencer was sworn in as OOIDA’s new president in late April. He replaces longtime president Jim Johnston, who died in January after a year-long battle with lung cancer.

“The biggest priorities should be dealing with the lack of places for parking. But the last time this was a big issue on the highway bill, the ATA sided with truckstop operators. Turned out, the ATA had more in common with truckstop operators than they did with actual drivers,” he says.  

“The Denham Act stems from the reluctance to pay drivers. That’s the heart of the issue,” says Spencer. “They don’t want to have to pay drivers for their time. The biggest culprit here is the issue of detention. They would rather do nothing than address it, which is shocking in that how can you complain about driver turnover and things like that when the people that actually employ them don’t care about their time?” 

In terms of the recent court rulings from California and New Jersey and the definition of what defines an independent contractor, Spencer says, “The misclassification of owner-operators is a big problem. There is no independence whatsoever. These abusive relationships; we have no issues with someone trying to do something about it. The bad guys only persist only because the big guys tolerate it. We have an industry that is critical to the entire country—no one seems to be willing to pay drivers what they’re worth and that’s the heart of the issue.” 

The Denham Act stems from the reluctance to pay drivers. That’s the heart of the issue.

“Just simply paying them for all their time,” adds Norita Taylor, public relations director of OOIDA.

“The same companies that complain about a shortage are the same ones that complain that they also don’t want to pay more. They’re like the Maria Antoinette of trucking. They want to have their cake and eat it too.” 

“It’s a characteristic of publicly-traded companies,” says Spencer. “Increase productivity and lower labor costs. They’ve certainly done that. Wages are left lower than where they should be going back to 1980, but at the same time we’re increasingly facing an industry that has no trouble attracting people, but we simply can’t keep them because they keep finding work that has a future and pays more and they can stay nearer home. Many of these drivers have no real benefits. There’s no future in it.”

With a year-long discussion on the rising freight costs and acute pain of the driver shortage during this year of the capacity crunch, has the industry moved the needle on the issue of driver retention? While a recent Goldman-Sachs report indicates an average of of a 12% increase across the board for driver pay, the churn is still as high as ever. Why?

“Lip service is what they give. If you’ve got 100% driver turnover, you’ve got not a shortage, you’ve got a surplus,” says Spencer.

“Most industries have 10-15% turnover,” adds Taylor. “Dr. Phil says, ‘People do what works for them even if it’s bad.’ They thrive on the turnover. They can keep rates low. They wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t profitable to them.”

Why are they so fired up? This ain’t their first rodeo. “We’ve watched all this stuff play out. Companies hire drivers and they were basically these hub and spoke operations. There were no national carriers (pre-regulation). Drivers basically went out and back. They were paid well. They didn’t leave. There’s virtually no legacy carriers left. Basically, even they are a shell of—other than UPS—what they used to be. Everyone else went to the JB Hunts and the darlings of the deregulation as I call them,” says Spencer.  

“There was no training. If you could breathe they’d put you behind the wheel. That’s been the mold. You pay drivers only for the miles they drive, so they’re always gonna want miles.”

They thrive on the turnover. They can keep rates low. They wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t profitable to them.

“It’s ludicrous that we would have an occupation that caps hours at 70 and drivers want more hours because that’s the only way they can make any more money. They’re exempt from overtime. It’s crazy. Drivers’ time is routinely wasted, that’s the key issue. People don’t pay more money for doing an excellent job. Bonuses are paid—when they are—for productivity and drivers are rarely in control of that. None of the hundreds of regulations that are coming out of the FMCSA are giving anything to the excellent drivers out there. There’s no incentive to recognize perfection. They treat you like you’re a criminal.”

When it comes to safety and proper training, they’re also frustrated. “We’ve pushed for minimum training requirements for decades. 20 years ago Congress told the government to fix that, and a couple of years ago they finally put into place a rule that has zero behind the wheel hours. It’s all classroom,” says Taylor.

“Meanwhile, accidents are up across the country,” says Spencer, referring to a NSC study that shows for the first time in nearly a decade, more than 40,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016. Between 1913 and 2016, motor-vehicle deaths per 10,000 registered vehicles decreased 95%, from 33 to 1.5. In 1913, only 1.3 million vehicles were registered, and 4,200 people died on the road. In 2016, 269 million vehicles were registered and 40,327 people died. In 2016, the mileage death rate of 1.27 per 100 million vehicle miles was up 4.1% from the 2015 rate of 1.22.

“The simplest explanation is that we have more regulations now than we’ve ever had. Some of these regulations are actually contributing to crashes. Inexperienced drivers are more likely to be involved in crashes,” says Spencer.

—Chad Prevost