Biggest bang for the buck

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In tough times, there is little spare money for raising driver pay or buying new equipment.
In fact, many fleets are reducing starting pay for new drivers and extending their trade cycles for new tractors by one or two years. This is hardly a recipe for happy drivers. As the industry emerges from the current downturn, drivers probably will be in short supply once again. Now is the time to build a reputation as a carrier that cares for its drivers during good times and bad.

You could generate favorable opinions by throwing money at drivers. The challenge is to build loyalty without spending much money. How? By focusing your spending on items that drivers value more than the dollars you spend. The following are some examples.

Per diem pay
When Congress attacked the “three-Martini lunch” a few years ago, a casualty was the full deductibility of meal expenses for truck drivers and other workers subject to hours-of-service regulations. Over the past few years, the industry has fought to restore much of the sharply reduced tax advantages of deducting drivers’ meal expenses.

Many carriers deduct meal expenses – the Internal Revenue Service allows $38 a day – from their drivers’ gross pay and pay the same amount to drivers as per diem pay. The advantage to the driver is that the reimbursed per diem amount is not subject to payroll or income taxes. This means that every dollar paid through a per diem represents an after-tax gain of 2 cents to 4 cents a mile.

The major advantage to you is that the per diem pay is not subject to the employer-paid payroll taxes. You can’t deduct the full amount of per diem pay for income tax purposes, but the savings in payroll taxes makes offering per diem a low- or no-cost benefit to drivers.

The after-tax income benefits of a per diem program for drivers are undeniable, but many drivers are somewhat suspicious of it. If you start offering per diem pay, be prepared to show drivers their net pay both with and without per diem.

Seats and mattresses
Operating older equipment makes it more difficult to attract high-quality drivers. With the drop in equipment values, many fleets are being forced to extend their trade cycles. If you can’t replace the entire truck, at least consider where a driver spends the most time – in his seat driving and in his bunk.

Replacing seats and mattresses can help make driving an older tractor more acceptable. Install the highest quality seats and mattresses you can afford. There is a tremendous difference in comfort and back support between the low and high ends for these items, but the cost difference is slight. Then, at least, your recruiters have something to promote. That’s better than discussing the age of the fleet.

Purchasing power
Many successful owner-operator fleets offer special purchasing programs for their contractors, but few carriers think to offer programs for company drivers. Many carriers, for example, offer better pricing on tractor tires to their contractors. Company drivers obviously don’t need tractor tires, but they do buy automobile tires. Consider working with your tire vendor to develop a special discount program on automobile tires for your employees. You can bet that most fleet maintenance directors get great deals on tires for their own cars.

Consider other goods and services – from vision care to vacations – where pooling together purchases can result in tremendous savings. Assign someone to research what items drivers are spending money on and how much can be saved. It may mean stocking the company store with some high-cost items, such as CBs and coolers, which are inexpensive when purchased in aggregate but expensive when bought in a truck stop.

If you can’t give drivers and other employees raises, at least you can help them save money on essentials, provide them a little extra money through per diem and make their work environment a bit more comfortable. Many companies claim to treat their employees like family. These are some ways they can prove it.