Would you work for a company that stole your 401(k) deductions, does little or shoddy equipment maintenance and demands that you run over hours? Nor would I, but there's a sizable number of drivers out there that do work for such companies. I can't help wondering why, with the number of reputable carriers claiming they can't find good people, crappy carriers offering crappy working conditions can still manage to find warm bodies to keep their wheels turning. What gives?
While trolling through the daily news feeds recently, I came across a story about the owner of Songbird Trucking of Algood, Tenn. William “Billy” Michael Martin was charged with, and subsequently pleaded guilty to, robbing his employees of their 401(k) and health insurance premium contributions. He was indicted on two counts of theft over $10,000, and entered a guilty plea on one count.
Martin was given five years of judicial diversion for his offence, which is a form of probation granted to some offenders with no prior disqualifying felony or misdemeanor.
I googled Songbird Trucking to get some inkling of what the company was like, and came across some forum postings (106 in one forum) from drivers who apparently worked for or knew Martin in the past few years. Most had some pretty unflattering things to say about him and the company, yet many of them apparently continue to work there -- some even defended the company.
Libel concerns prevent me from detailing the content of some of the posts, but suffice to say, they don't paint a picture of a happy place to work. The postings don't reveal much about the drivers who made them, but I suspect they might not be the pick of the crop either.
But never mind that company, what about the dozens if not hundreds of others like it, operating on the margins and mostly off or under the radar screen until something happens that alerts DOT to a problem? Drivers working for such companies probably don't mind that the carrier isn't running a proper drug testing program or doing complete background checks. That they can get away with adjusting their logbooks is probably of some financial advantage to them. More miles means more money -- even if they have to wait a few days for the check to clear the bank.
It's distressing that in these times when solid and responsible drivers are seeing real wages drop (In an update to its "Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking," ATRI recently reported a decline of about a nickel a mile in labor costs between 2011 and 2012.), fly-by-night carriers and drivers are able to improve their earnings by flouting the system.
If CSA actually worked to punish the bad carriers rather than the good ones, we wouldn't have such a situation -- and the shortage of good drivers would actually start pushing wages up.
Drivers are reminded repeatedly that they are in short supply, but few of them believe it because their personal situations are not improving -- as the laws of economics tell us they should.
Given their choices, I'm afraid that good portion of the driving population believes they are better off in a less regimented working environment where the rules are not barriers to earning, and where the usual compliance pressures -- and all the associated hassles -- hardly exist.
The DOT can't put these companies out of business fast enough, so if the companies operating on the right side of the law hope to compete, they will have to devise strategies for changing drivers' thinking on how to earn a living in trucking. They could start by rewarding compliance rather than performance and recognizing professional behavior instead of taking it for granted.