Work-life issues more important to drivers, panelists say

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Fleet executives discussing driver turnover Wednesday, June 7 at the CCJ Spring Symposium, sponsored by Randall-Reilly Publishing, agreed that work-life issues are becoming more important to employees, who now favor shorter, dedicated routes to long-haul deliveries.

This year, turnover “is the highest it’s been in the nine years I’ve been there,” said Stacia DeWitt, recruiting director for Marten Transport of Mondovi, Wis. Marten is looking to add more regional terminals to keep drivers closer to home, DeWitt said during a panel discussion at the symposium, held in Tuscaloosa, Ala. “A lot of drivers see long-haul as their start to getting into the industry,” DeWitt said. “The work-life issue has become huge.”

Paul Williams, president of Wooster Motor Ways of Wooster, Ohio, said his company has lost drivers to fleets offering more dedicated routes, and that new drivers often are blindsided by the demands of trucking. “Their families cannot accept the lifestyle change that just happened with their spouse,” said Williams, whose company now requires candidates to read over a lengthy list of job requirements and sign off on each stipulation. “It has really helped the ‘he said, she said’ issues that come up,” Williams said.

Jeff Wilmarth, president of Silver Arrow Express of Rockford, Ill., said he has lost a few drivers to local carriers but has seen less turnover than larger companies. “Being a regional hauler, we have a lower turnover ratio, and we try to get them home more often,” Wilmarth said. “We have more drivers knocking on our door attempting to apply.”

In a December 2005 survey of CCJ readers, 55 percent cited the driver shortage as their biggest challenge. “We need drivers,” DeWitt said. “We have empty loads right now. We’re using all available options,” including classified advertising, she said. Silver Arrow Express gets a lot of its drivers from “a job placement firm we have locally, and all the other carriers that do a bad job retaining drivers,” Wilmarth said.

More fleets are tapping new resources in their quest for drivers, including mature workers, recent ex-military personnel, Hispanics, women, Eastern Europeans and Middle Easterners. Silver Arrow Express is hiring more second-career drivers and women, but Middle Easterners and Eastern Europeans haven’t been as interested in hauling hazmat for the carrier, Wilmarth said. “They don’t want to deal with the hassle” of extra scrutiny from authorities, he said.

The American Trucking Associations has blamed the shortage on the aging work force, litigation hassles and tougher hours-of-service rules. Drivers, both solo and team, are no longer able to split their mandatory 10 hours of off-duty time unless they spend at least eight consecutive hours in their sleeper berth and take another two consecutive hours during the work day. That two-hour break, which need not be in the sleeper, does not, however, stop the clock on a driver’s 14-hour “window” for driving.

“We’ve seen an increase in violations for drivers not having the last seven days of their log book,” DeWitt said. Drivers would prefer to be fined than to be found in violation of their hours, she said.

Wooster has opened another terminal and converted drivers to hourly workers to address the split-rest issue, but both measures have added tremendous costs, Williams said. “The first hours-of-service rules were the best thing that ever happened to this industry,” Williams lamented. “It’s absolutely absurd to be told when to sleep and when not to sleep.”