Working on the Clock: Flatbed or Intermodal?
Truck drivers are not like salaried workers who might get paid even when sitting and having a conversation with a coworker. They are not like hourly workers who are busily engaged in paying tasks for their entire shifts. No, truck drivers are somewhat unique in that they are only getting paid when the wheels are moving. This raises an interesting question about flatbed and intermodal jobs.
Federal law does not allow a truck driver to drive more than 10 consecutive hours following eight consecutive hours off duty. Drivers are not allowed to work any more than 15 hours per day either. Yet the law considers time spent waiting at a port or securing a flatbed load as on-duty time. If a driver spends two hours doing either, he or she is not earning money for that time. Yet those two hours still go against the total amount of time he or she can work for that shift.
The law presents a unique problem for flatbed and intermodal drivers that other truckers don’t have to worry about. Both flatbed and intermodal drivers have to spend time doing things for which they are not being paid. The question then becomes one of which job is preferable.
Although there are exceptions to the rule, flatbed truckers generally don’t get paid for the time they spend loading, securing, and unloading the trailers. Securing their cargo is the biggest time consumer of all. Mytee Products, an Ohio company that sells cargo control supplies to truckers, says that flatbedders use everything from chains to ratchet straps to tarps in the effort to secure and protect cargo.
Mytee Products also says that the time it takes to secure a flatbed load is not the same for every situation. It depends on the cargo, how it has to be secured, and additional factors like weather conditions and where the drivers are actually working. Some loads can be secured and covered in under 30 minutes; others can take an hour or longer.
The good news for flatbed truckers is that their loads typically pay more. Freight forwarders understand the extra effort that goes into cargo control, so they are willing to up the per-mile rate. Still though, that time goes against the total number of hours a driver is working. And time is money.
Intermodal trucking is a bit different in that drivers don’t have to worry about loading, securing, and unloading. It is a simple hook-and-go operation. The problem intermodal truckers run into is encapsulated in a word we all hate: waiting.
According to data cited by Transport Topics, the average turnaround time at two of the busiest ports in Southern California – Los Angeles and Long Beach – was 83 minutes during the third quarter of 2017. That equates to nearly an hour-and-a-half that drivers spend waiting in line to get a load. Ironically, it takes just minutes to get hooked up once a driver reaches the front of the line.
That 83 minutes is just the average time. On a bad day, truckers could wait a lot longer. On a good day – and there aren’t as many of those – a driver might get in and out in under 45 minutes.
If you were a trucker working on the clock, which would you rather do? Would you rather spend unpaid time tying down your load with winch straps and chains, in the knowledge that you might get on the road fairly quickly, or would you rather sit in line at a port in hopes that you’ll get your load closer to the 45-minute mark?