Truck drivers spend hours every week unpaid. And a study shows the vulnerable workers' biggest problem is only getting worse.

truckerJeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

  • Truck drivers say waiting at warehouses for new shipments to load or unload is one of the most aggravating parts of their jobs. It's called "detention time," and it's a result of retail and manufacturing warehouses not being organized to get their shipments ready in time.
  • Reports last year of a truck driver shortage and an industry boom theoretically gave truckers the upper hand in 2018, but detention time actually worsened that year compared to 2014.
  • On the upside, shippers were more likely to pay for detention time.
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It seemed like things were on the up and up for truck drivers last year; they were getting "unprecedented" pay bumps and massive retailers were stocking trucker waiting areas with free soda and snacks. It was all part of an effort to become "a shipper of choice."

But, that concern for truckers hasn't translated into solving one of their most aggravating issues - detention time. Truck drivers spend 2 1/2 hours on average waiting to be loaded or unloaded, and they're typically not paid for that time. Almost 63% of truck drivers say they wait three hours or more every time they're at a shipping dock.

A new study from the American Transportation Research Institute shows that detention has become more frequent and lengthier in time. Nearly 40% more truckers said they were detained more than 71% of the time from 2014 to 2018.

Read more: Truckers voted for Trump in droves. Now they say his trade war is 'killing' their ability to make a living.

That detention is getting longer, too. Of truckers who were detained at warehouses, 9.3% waited a whopping six-plus hours in 2018. That's two percentage points higher than 2014.

truckers waiting unpaidATRI, Andy Kiersz/Business Insider

Often, truckers are fearful of even asking for detention pay. They're theoretically entitled to around $50 to $100 an hour for every hour of detention served past two hours of waiting.

But 20% of truck drivers who work for smaller companies, which comprise the vast majority of the industry, say they don't ask for detention pay "to remain competitive and maintain good relationships" with customers. "(A) plurality of respondents reported that it is often difficult to generate the detention payments from customers," the report said.

Read more: The 'bloodbath' in America's trucking industry has officially spilled over to the rest of the economy

There are some industry indicators of, at least, that payment being processed. A new suite of freight brokerage apps, like Uber Freight, Convoy, and Transfix, have made it clear to truck drivers that the typically-elusive detention pay is available when you book a job through them.

And, positively, it does seem that shippers are actually paying out for detention time. In 2014, 62.8% of truckers said they received all or part of the detention pay they asked for. That's now up to 71.4% in 2018.

truckerLuis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

But that money doesn't totally cover the wages lost by not driving. Truckers are paid per mile, so being forced to wait for shipment to load or unload also forces a major opportunity cost as drivers are forced to watch viable jobs pass. "It was expressed often by drivers that the detention compensation was not adequate for covering fuel expenses, or lost wages," the report noted.

The problem is that warehouses aren't properly organized to get the shipments ready in time. That causes inefficiencies throughout the supply chain. "Driver detention is an urgent issue that must be addressed by our industry. It's a matter of fairness," said Don Thornton, a senior vice president at the freight marketplace DAT Solutions. "Many shippers and receivers are lax about their dock operations, but it's the carriers and drivers who are forced to pay for that inefficiency."

Truckers say that detention underlies a more pervasive problem in the industry - a lack of respect for truck drivers.

"It doesn't really matter how many free snacks or how many free Diet Cokes you have," Andrew Lynch, cofounder and president of Zipline Logistics said. "If you're taking up four hours of a driver's time, you're ruining their day. And no amount of free pretzels can make that up."

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