Independent Contractors

The American Transportation Research Institute just released findings of its 2017 update to the operational cost of Trucking, aptly called, An Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking. Some interesting excerpts:

The analysis found that the average CPM was $1.592 for 2016, up one percent from the costs of $1.575 found in 2015. The total marginal costs for TL was $1.42; for LTL, it was $1.74; and Specialized was $1.83.

As we know, the trucking industry hauls most of freight in the United States, accounting for 66 percent of the nation’s freight tonnage and 73 percent of freight value. A typical truck-tractor in the ATRI sample was reported to have driven 103,945 miles per year, compared to just 25,511 miles for straight trucks.

Respondents reported holding equipment for more miles, but slightly fewer years compared to the previous year’s analysis. This indicates that trucks are being used more intensively each year and are likely wearing out in less time than before

Though new truck models are becoming more fuel efficient, indications of an increase in fuel economy have lagged. For example, the overall fuel economy of the respondent sample held steady at an average of 6.3 MPG

Fuel costs have consistently been the biggest MC line-item expense across most of the years ATRI has conducted this research, and generally account for approximately 30 to 40 percent of a motor carrier’s CPM.24 However, due to the continual steady decline of fuel prices in 2015 and early 2016, fuel’s share of a carrier’s MC was lower than historically experienced and was in fact surpassed by driver wages for the second consecutive year.

Many industry shifts have continued to exert upward pressure on driver pay. In fact, in 2016 both driver wages and benefits grew for the fourth consecutive year, and are now ranked as the biggest cost center for motor carriers in ATRI’s sample for the second consecutive year. Chief among these shifts has been the much-discussed shortage of qualified drivers, a shortage that continued to plague the industry in 2016. Truck insurance costs increased to 7.5 cents per mile.

Most truckload drivers are paid on a per-mile basis while LTL P&D drivers are generally paid by the hour. Survey respondents indicated that average truck driver pay per mile was 52.3 cents in 2016, marking four years of continuous increases. In terms of hourly wages, the 2016 CPM figure translated to $20.91.

 

Regards,

Jim.mahoney@jfm-lawfirm.com

Medical marijuana laws present unique challenges to employers.

Almost all states will soon have similar laws as to medical marijuana usage, and generally no employee can be fired just for having medical authorization to use marijuana.

The Americans with Disabilities Act even prevents employers from asking about it because that would presume the employer is asking about an underlying disability.

While it’s still illegal under federal law to possess or use it, there have been more than 60 peer-reviewed studies with an overwhelming majority finding marijuana helpful as palliative care in debilitating diseases or for those with chronic pain.

What is an employer to do? Re-write your employee handbook; be vigilant and drug test under the defense of reasonable suspicion.

Current Arizona law is typical of many states’ view: unless a failure to test would cause an employer to lose a monetary or licensing-related benefit under law, an employer may not discriminate against a person in hiring, terminating, imposing a condition of employment, or otherwise penalizing a person for having medical marijuana privileges, or producing a positive test for marijuana.

Safety-sensitive work in the transportation industry – or any industry – allows the employer to discipline / terminate employees with medical marijuana prescriptions if intoxicated on duty.

Regardless of the industry, no employee with a medical marijuana card may use, possess, or be impaired at work.

Why should you be concerned / have a policy / conduct reasonable suspicion testing?

Because of exposure to the legal risk of negligent hiring or negligent retention claims brought by third persons; and because your medical card employee could challenge you for discrimination if you do not treat every employee the same.

The Gig Economy Just Got Giggier

On June 7, 2017, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta announced that the U.S. Department of Labor has withdrawn two informal guidance documents on independent contractor misclassification and joint employment, which had been issued by President Obama.

These involved the “economic realities” test used for contractors; and an expansive interpretation for joint employment under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Presumably, the absence of these guidance documents, along with various test factors delineated by the DOL, courts likely will revert to prior interpretations of independent contractor classification and joint employment as had been determined by courts in each jurisdiction.

The Causes and Occurrences of Fatal Road Accidents by State

The Auto Insurance Center presented its second look at fatalities in all states and broke out some interesting statistics. It’s worth a few minutes to scroll through their findings.

Click this link:

www.autoinsurancecenter.com/fatal-crash-causes.htm

 

Drones in Accident Reconstruction

Drone technology brings a significant advantage over current crash data collection methods in litigated matters.

The falling costs of drones and associated software, combined with reduced expert costs, time saved, access to traffic areas, and the superb visualization of the collected data make drones desirable and useful for accident reconstruction.

Post- crash investigations have always been a challenge for the transportation and insurance industries, particularly crashes occurring in, or because of, temporary traffic routing that can change daily. Some traffic plans fail to meet MUTCD standards and that failure could contribute to the cause of a crash.

A recent experiment with drone technology in relation to crash reconstruction proved to be a positive experience. A drone was used to collect images of the scene; and a 3D model was built with software. The technology produced amazingly clear and accurate scene details. It was also less time consuming and less expensive than traditional reconstruction methods. An exemplar reenactment proved to be of great value. It’s not for every case, but it should be considered.

Freight Recession Over?

DAT Solutions reported that last week the overall load to truck ratio was the highest it’s been since March 2014. Last week was also the second week in a row when rates rose on more than 70 of the top 100 dry van lanes. DAT suggests that the ratio and rates offer strong evidence that the freight recession is over and that spot rates may likely continue to rise, with the June California produce shipments making for a good start to Summer.

Jim Mahoney serves transport clients in all states and he has joined with Resnick & Louis PC, which has offices in: NM, CA, TX, CO, NV, FL, AZ, UT, UK, where he is Chair of Transportation cases.

JMahoney@rlattorneys.com serving the transportation industry – 602-900-1800

If you own or manage a transportation company, the URS, or Unified Registration System, is about to become reality for you.

It’s the FMCSA’s new, “streamlined” registration system that will improve our collective looks, smooth wrinkles, and do away with paperwork.

It requires regulated transport businesses to register online. It eliminates the MC number, FF or MX number.

As of September 30th new registrants will use this system to obtain a DOT number and register operating authority. Established companies will thereafter edit or update registrations online.

The URS is a single, online federal information system that transport businesses use to register and update their information with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Don’t confuse it with that other registration system, UCR. The Unified Carrier Registration system is not part of the FMCSA; instead, it’s a federally mandated, annual state-administered registration program that exists to collect funds from trucking companies and give funds back to the states to support DOT officers’ ability to write violations and give drivers costly citations that often have nothing to do with safety.

The URS applies to all interstate motor carriers, including private and for-hire passenger and property motor carriers, freight forwarders, brokers, intermodal equipment providers (IEPs), hazardous materials safety permit (HMSP) applicants/holders, and cargo tank manufacturing and repair facilities under FMCSA’s jurisdiction. Mexican-domiciled carriers conducting long-haul, non-cabotage operations into the U.S. are exempt.

Again, the URS will require online registration for all filers, will use only your DOT number as identifier, will have a new fee schedule, and will maintain your records of financial responsibility and statutory process agency…umm, just like it does now, only…umm…better.

Applicants will begin using URS for registrations and changes starting Sept. 30. If you’re already registered with the FMCSA “the old way,” you will have until December 31st to start using the new system – but only as you update biennially or edit your registration.

There will undoubtedly be some changes, so read the FAQs and website updates. I wouldn’t work up a sweat over all of this just yet, though.


Oh, by the way, the Governor of Arizona did sign the independent contractor bill, so, as said previously, it’s effective August 6th.  Arizona-based carriers should review, negotiate, and rewrite their ICOAs with their OOs. And those interstate entities domiciled elsewhere, but who now wish to be Arizona-based carriers – should consider re-domiciling and changing operations a bit to take advantage of  the new law.

 

Anticipating the Governor’s signature on HB2114 this week, Arizona should have a very strong law defining independent contractors. To paraphrase:

ANY EMPLOYING UNIT CONTRACTING WITH AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR MAY PROVE THE EXISTENCE OF AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR RELATIONSHIP FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS TITLE BY THE INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR EXECUTING A DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENT BUSINESS STATUS, and by the contractor declaring the following:

… THE CONTRACTOR is operating an independent business and providing services as an independent contractor; the contractor acknowledges the absence of an employment relationship without any claim to UI benefits or other rights arising from an employment relationships; that the contracting party is not responsible to withhold any tax; the contractor is responsible for his or her tax obligations, for obtaining licensing, registrations, or other authorizations that would be necessary for rendering the contracted services.

There will be six of ten categories that the contractor acknowledges as existing in the relationship, most of which can  – or already are – in practice with our transport partners.

Perhaps the best benefit for those of us in the trenches who spend time educating courts and state agencies to the distinction between independent contractors and company employees is the explanation in the new law that “any supervision or control exercised by the employing unit to comply with any statute, rule, or code adopted by the federal government, this state …may not be considered for the purposes of determining the independent contractor or employment status of any relationship…”

This will eliminate the hang-up that judges and agencies see as indicia of employment control. Since all motor carriers and freight brokers – to some degree – are obligated to enforce drivers to adhere to FMCSR regulations for hours of service, safe operations on the road, off-duty, and in pre-trip operations, as well as in communications with dispatch personnel, customers and general safe and efficient routing, this phrase eliminates that argument.

I would recommend that each of us review and amend – slightly, but quite importantly – our ICOAs with our owner-operators so as to comply with this law. Thereafter I expect a slight learning curve in educating state agencies, Work Comp insurance underwriters, courts and, not the least, negotiating with our contractors.

But this new law – expected to be signed by Governor Ducey this week, and effective August 6th – will unburden Arizona businesses from the vestige of impossible compliance with conflicting federal and state laws, and some costly litigation efforts.

Perhaps another benefit, which was envisioned bringing this Bill to fruition, is making Arizona more attractive to businesses across the West, particularly California companies escaping burdensome – and conflicting – regulations and insurance rates.

Re-domestication efforts can be considered. There are a few boxes to check off as companies consider this, and the benefits and detriments should be considered individually.

 

Maybe at the top of annoyances coming out of the FMCSA is “Beyond Compliance,” the Agency’s false logic attempt to make trucking “safer” by rewarding motor carriers that buy equipment purportedly leading to better CSA scores. It would be nice to see the empirical data of enhanced safety stemming from the latest doodads, rather than just regulatory guessing.

Using the input received and the Congressional direction in the FAST Act, the notice published in the Federal Register provides details on FMCSA’s proposal and processes to allow “recognition” ( I’m thinking this doesn’t mean a gold star; instead probably some kind of bonus chit to help the carrier bypass inspections or audits) for a motor carrier that:

  1. installs advanced safety equipment; (gee, at a implementation price when shippers are balking at 2% rate increases?)
  2. uses enhanced driver fitness measures; (are we talking sleep apnea testing? If so, another waste of carrier resources and time. Measure neck size, much more reliable; or hire skinny drivers).
  3. adopts fleet safety management tools, technologies, and programs; (robots and algorithms replacing fleet Safety Management?) or
  4. satisfies other standards determined appropriate by the FMCSA. (maybe a realistic new driver training program with a real backing test?)

See more at: https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/newsroom/fmcsa-seeks-input-%E2%80%9Cbeyond-compliance%E2%80%9D-program#sthash.626nkom0.dpuf

For another prime example of regulatory annoyance, look at the mandate for ELDs. Not one of us would dispute the fact that drivers can shave miles on ELDs just as they could with paper logs.  Even I could do it (not that I would ever).

Then there’s URS. As of September 30th, the Agency will use the singular URS registration number to make our world simpler. But it will cost hours in learning and complying with the new system. The old system and paper filings will no longer be allowed because the Agency believes the Unified Registration System will cut down on phantom registrations by unsafe carriers – all six of them. Gee, no one could ever figure a way to register around the URS if one were so inclined.

Lest we forget the new Food Safety Modernization Act, a safeguard work-in-progress for a non-existent problem, in a year from now shippers, consignees, warehouses, and freight brokers will be looking to one another for assurances and pointing fingers that their part in the logistics system was not the cause of unsanitary or spoiled food conditions.

In the words of the FDA, “In keeping with the overarching food safety goal of FSMA, this rule now solely focuses on practices that create safety risks, rather than on those that affect its quality but don’t necessarily make it dangerous to consume.” Hmm, a fix for a problem that doesn’t necessarily exist.

“Loaders” have been added as covered parties under the FSMA. According to the Act, a loader is a person who physically loads food onto a motor or rail vehicle (rail carriers are exempted from the rule entirely; motor carriers are not. Certainly, that has nothing to do with the strength of the rail lobby).

  • Before loading a food not completely enclosed by a container (oh, you mean those sea-tossed containers of produce that were sitting next to containers leaking toxic battery acid?) , the loader must determine that the transportation equipment is in appropriate sanitary condition.
  • Before loading a food requiring temperature control, the loader must determine that each mechanically refrigerated cold storage compartment is adequately prepared for refrigerated transportation, including precooling, if necessary.

Seriously, who is a loader? A Beneficial Cargo Owner, a Shipper, an Expeditor, a Broker, Warehouse, a Lumper? Who checks the trailer – and who’s qualified to check the trailer – to determine adequate preparation?

Oddly, carriers and brokers are supposed to look to the shippers for guidance in compliance. But the onus will undoubtedly still fall on carriers and brokers.

And the learned outsiders pondering the new law provide a worthless solution: Carriers are going to have to be given notice of what the transport protocols are in order to make “decisions” about whether they want to move the loads or not.

Sure.

A broker and/or carrier is going to turn down loads because shippers don’t have protocols. It’s presently tough enough for reefer carriers to make a buck,  to be turned away at delivery, and without USDA inspection, or because the carrier didn’t show up at the convenience of the consignee, and the truck is left wandering around while shippers, brokers and carriers fight about responsibility. And it’s most often the carrier that is blamed – wrongly – and then the carrier’s insurer declines the claim for little or no reason. The FSMA is going to fix that?

Equipment must be clean and suitable for safe temperatures. No one has said what “clean” is or how often a trailer needs a washout, but records of prior loads must be kept. For criminal prosecution. As with the ELD mandate and Beyond Compliance, maybe only the better-capitalized brokers and carriers will have an easier time convincing shippers to follow protocols and force them to load those carriers with real cargo coverage that actually covers reefer loads. Ok, on second thought, no they won’t.

Then there’s the proposed Safety Fitness Determination program, a kind of pass / fail system that is to review tens of thousands of carriers based on the methodology of CSA scoring. I can attest that roadside stops are generating non-existent CSA violations because of: 1) DOT officers don’t really understand the regs (“Gee, what’s the 100 air mile exemption again? Don’t drivers have to keep logs with them?” – Ah, no. Or, this one: 2)  “You’ve crossed state lines. The 100 air mile exemption no longer applies.” Ah, yes it does). Or, this one’s popular 3) “Hmmm, your truck looks dirty, so these air lines must be chafing.”

And maybe the grandest incursions are by states into interstate commerce. It’s a tie:

  1. “Owner-operators are cheated by motor carriers. They are paid so little it’s like indentured servitude.” Actually, a recent study showed OOs had almost 30% greater net income than company drivers. Presumably these small business owners pay their share of taxes. But even with proof of their State and Federal returns evidencing that, judges decide they’re really just employees.
  2. FLSA wage and hour claims under the incorrect assumption that intra-state movements of cargo is not interstate commerce and thus not subject to the exemption in the Motor Carrier Act. Distilled down, the applicability of this MCA exemption depends centrally on whether the employee was engaged in interstate commerce. A driver-employee engages in interstate commerce if his delivery “forms a part of a “practical continuity of movement” across state lines from the point of origin to the point of destination, an understanding of the law that harkens back to a 1943 Supreme Court case, Walling v. Jacksonville Paper Co., 317 U.S. 564, 568 (1943).

I suppose ranting isn’t productive.

But instead of fixing non-existent problems, or developing a program of brownie points to skip real safety problems, or weeding out the very few phantom carriers, or owning up to the realization that neck size is a better indicator of fatigue, or that 24 hour sleep apnea tests are driven by the “sleep apnea industry,” why not spend money on fixing the traffic choke points and infrastructure problems that cause drivers to run over hours or become fatigued or use discretion to avoid the California break time rules, which truly affect safety and also delay loads? Wouldn’t that improve our transport system, decrease costs, and increase productivity?

The saving grace of all this is that it’s put my kids through college and I’m still off the streets.

 

 

The European Union has long had a type of worker with both the characteristics of employees blended with characteristics of what we in the U.S. call independent contractors. In the latest Uber settlement, the company seems to have played that Euro-card and compromised with lead plaintiffs in two class action suits, one in Northern California and the other in Massachusetts.

This outcome may suggest to us in the transport industry a renewed interest in happy mediums, that is, blended workers. The European model I studied and wrote about last summer is a bit more – okay, a lot more – closely defined and evolved than what Uber and the class members’ lead counsel proposes. If you’ll recall, the EU model of ICs in trucking grants some additional rights of employment despite having contracts and the real freedom to drive for other entities. We needn’t get into all that detail right now because we sure don’t want to sound socialistic again, but the time is probably ripe for us to re-write our ICOAs with a view towards mirroring both the EU model and the EU-lite model that Uber has smartly proposed in its settlement.

We should remember the main reason – or one of them anyway – that there’s opposition to independent contractor work: the fear of losing tax revenue. Real or not, the perception is that Owner-Operators in the transport industry are not self-reporting income or paying mandatory taxes. The EU model takes care of that, but we’re not ready for that just yet. Think of all the ALJs, State, and Federal Court judges whose heads would spin trying to grasp our industry’s regulatory quirks combined with the EU model.

That said, however, the time seems right to continue our efforts to adjust laws of contracting (see Arizona’s business’ efforts now circulating the State House) and also to gingerly approach our OO contracts with revisions that reflect these nascent terms from the EU and Uber’s proposed settlement.