Owner-operators say personal touch builds driver loyalty

Tom and Debbie Berkel have been driving for Mercer Transportation Company, Inc. for 25 years, so they know a thing or two about driver loyalty. What keeps them from joining in on the job-hopping, however, might surprise you.

Independent truck operators Tom and Debbie Berkel have been driving for Louisville, KY-based Mercer Transportation Company, Inc. for 25 years, so they know a thing or two about driver loyalty. What keeps them from joining in on the job-hopping that drives the driver shortage, however, might surprise you.

According to the Berkels, their staying put has a lot to do with a “family feeling” and with the opportunities Mercer offers them to take part in community service events, such as a recent Special Olympics, that make all the difference.

“Mercer has always had that small company feel,” observes Debbie Berkel. “For instance, they always take us to lunch when we come to Louisville. They have a drivers’ picnic and we go if we are in town. They even let us drive their vans to go to dinner at night or to the store when we are in Louisville.

“The company also has an open-door policy,” she continues. “You can talk to anyone you want to anytime. If we have a problem or a question, we just call and ask someone. Too many drivers hear a negative rumor and just quit, or complain to each other about things they don’t like or understand instead of calling their company and getting the straight story. If we hear a rumor,” she adds, “we just call Mercer and ask about it.”

“The company doesn’t owe us a nickel either,” offers Tom Berkel. “And they never lie to us. We also get to pick and choose whatever load we want. There is no forced dispatch. I’d quit if they had forced dispatch. Instead, we work with a coordinator who passes us along to an agent wherever we are and we choose the load we want from those offered to us.”

One of the real highlights of 2006 for the Berkels was the opportunity to participate in the “Longest Truck Convoy,” a Special Olympics support activity that included some 30 states and two Canadian provinces. “Tom and I were asked by Mercer if we’d like to go to the event in Kentucky,” recalls Debbie Berkel. “We said we would love to and so Mercer paid the $100 entry fee for us and said they would pay for as many other Mercer trucks as we could get to go with us. We asked Mercer if we could also do something to raise money for the Special Olympics. They said ‘yes’ so we organized a silent auction.

“I was so excited,” she says. “The people who work in Mercer’s office and the drivers bid on items for two days, and when the money was counted we raised $975!” After the convoy, they auctioned off the Special Olympics flag and it is now hanging in the Mercer main lobby because a ‘Mercer couple’ won the bid. It means a lot to us that Mercer cares about more than just trucking and that we can work hand-in-hand with them and with other drivers to be a part of that.

“You have just got to love your job,” reflects Debbie Berkel. “My dad always hated his job and he told me, ‘if you don’t like your job then change it.’ We love our driving job and feel like life couldn’t get any better for us. Everybody thinks that truckers are a rough and tough bunch—all dirt and big bellies, but it isn’t really like that at all. We have a lot to give besides just hours behind the windshield, and it enriches our lives to give it.”

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