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Hunt for Drivers Accelerates

Dec. 15, 2004
Carriers boosting pay, home time for drivers

Fleets large and small continue to compete for available drivers, with many readying more pay raises for 2005. Meanwhile, drivers themselves appear to be scanning the market for the best employment deal.

“Drivers are out there looking – and they’ve become very conscientious shoppers,” Dale Lawless, director of recruiting for Mahomet, IL-based Roberson Transportation, told Fleet Owner. “There’s a lot of buzz out in the market about higher pay and more flexible work schedules, but many [drivers] are taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude. They know they can get a job, so they are focusing on getting the right one for them.”

Little Rock, AR-based flatbed carrier Maverick Transportation is one fleet planning to raise pay for current and potential drivers, starting January 2. Maverick will offer starting pay of 38 cents per mile for drivers in the company’s longhaul fleet and up to 37 cents per mile for its regional drivers. Most drivers will receive a 2-cent per mile increase across the board, said Stephen Selig, president & COO.

“This is our second pay raise in as many years,” he said, pointing to new benefits that include a vision and life insurance program. “Our goal is to offer the best driver compensation plan in the flatbed business,” Selig said.

Culman, AL-based McGriff Transportation is raising pay by 2 cents per mile next year for its company drivers, after offering a 2-cent per mile productivity bonus for owner operators and company drivers. The carrier is also throwing in a 1-cent per mile safety bonus.

Missoula, MT-based Jim Palmer Trucking is planning a 1-cent per mile pay raise after January 1, along with a $1,500 longevity bonus paid on a new hire’s anniversary date as well as a $2,000 bonus for referrals.

“It’s been a good year for trucking, so you’re going to see more increases like this in 2005,” said Lance Craig, president of Perrysburg, OH-based Craig Transportation and current chairman of the Truckload Carriers Assn. “The industry’s competitive forces are in full swing.”

Craig told Fleet Owner that what’s different about the driver-recruiting environment today centers on the industry’s ability to raise pay. “Capacity has been so tight that it’s finally allowing carriers to raise rates – and so they are now in a position to really address driver pay in a significant way,” he explained. “So I think we’re going to see more and more of these kinds of pay increases in the future.”

Independents aren’t being overlooked, either. Eagan, MN-based Dart Transit Company is planning to raise pay for its independent contractors between $2,400 and $4,200 a year in 2005. The increases will become effective in the first quarter of 2005 for most of Dart’s operating options, and will be comprised of higher mileage rates and a fully paid “base-plate” package.

“These increases are coming on the heels of large rate increases in 2004 that were worth $3,200 to $5,000 a year to most of our contractors,” said David Oren, Dart’s executive vp. “Adding the two increases together, Dart will have raised contractor pay by about $7,500 in a year.” He added that Dart will continue to work toward future contractor mileage rate increases as well.

Roberson’s Lawless added a note of caution to the driver recruitment and retention debate as 2004 draws to a close, pointing out that just pay raises alone may not be sufficient.

“Home time is really important to drivers – about 85% of the drivers I talk to say that,” he told Fleet Owner. “We try to get them home every two weeks, but this is an industry where the tires have to roll to make money.”

Lawless said Roberson is working to offer more “flexible” pay scales as well, by the mile or as a percentage of the load. With both flatbed and dry van operations, Roberson is also trying to target driver “preferences” for the types of freight they haul and where they run as much as possible.

“Retention efforts have to go hand-in-hand with recruiting,” he explained. “You’ve got to meet the drivers’ needs on both ends. And that’s what’s going to make it so dad-gum interesting as we work to hire and keep drivers next year.”

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