More Than Our
Share of Lumpers
Today, carriers frequently feel coerced to hire on-site lumpers at exorbitant fees or run the risk of excessive detention, problems with counts or claims. Consignees often decline to hire and pay dockhands to unload arriving trailers; instead, they pass the cost on to the carrier, which is expected to pay for segregating and stacking, as well as unloading, the shipment. This system is neither fair nor equitable to the trucking industry.
Congress has long recognized the possibility of coercion in the loading and unloading of trucks and in 1980 passed legislation to address the issue. This law (49 United States Code §14103) requires a shipper or receiver to provide assistance and compensate the driver for all associated lumper costs if the shipper or receiver requires the driver to be assisted.
Its also illegal to coerce, or attempt to coerce, a driver into hiring or paying one or more people to load or unload a shipment. This statute imposes stiff civil and criminal penalties. Any shipper or receiver that knowingly authorizes, consents to or permits coercion is subject to a fine of up to $10,000 for each violation and as much as two years in prison. But in the 19 years since Congress passed these remedies, carriers have seldom, if ever, used them.
Standing alone, few carriers can afford to prosecute an offender under the anticoercion statute. Coercion is seldom expressed, but often implied; hence, it is difficult to prove.
As labor law has evolved and carrier complaints have mounted, shippers and receivers have begun contracting with independent lumping services, which in turn employ laborers who load and unload trucks. Many carriers view this practice as an organized shakedown, suspecting receivers of paying lower rates for unloading inbound collect shipments than the rate charged carriers on prepaid loads.
To avoid coercion and lumper abuse, whenever possible specify shipper load and count, consignee unload. In quoting rates, provide for payment of the actual lumping costs as an accessorial charge, based on submission of lumping receipts with your invoice and proof of delivery. Whenever possible, contact the in-house lumping services and establish by contract consistent and fair pricing.
Fortunately, there are two positive developments in the area of lumper abuse. CompuNet Credit Services now offers an online service called Dock Report (www.dockreport.com) that lets carriers report their experiences at shipper and receiver docks throughout the country. Access to this interactive website is free through the end of the year. Available information includes detention time, lumper fees and lumper service information. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. The Dock Report gives motor carriers an effective means of monitoring abuses and ensuring their prices for lumping and detention are in line with anticipated costs.
The second development is in litigation. The Owner-Operator Independ- ent Drivers Association and other organizations are considering collective legal actions against offenders, based on the anticoercion statutes. The Dock Report should provide a network for accumulating evidence of violations. If consistent patterns of coercion can be shown, expect to see collective legal action taken against shippers and consignees.