How carriers can help independent contractors thrive

Image: Jim Allen / FreightWaves

Image: Jim Allen / FreightWaves

One session at TCA’s 81st Annual Convention, dubbed “Helping Your Independent Contractors When You Can’t ‘Help’ Them,” examined how motor carriers can enhance the experience of the owner-operators they contract without putting the “arm’s length” relationship in jeopardy.

Landstar Transportation independent contractor (IC) Gary Buchs and National Association of Independent Truckers Vice President of Business Development David King spoke during the session. There was a heavy emphasis on healthcare and the difficulties owner-operators face when seeking medical coverage.

Most company employees have health insurance options available, and the company does the majority of the heavy-lifting by choosing a provider and creating plan options. Companies also typically contribute financially to employees’ health costs, covering some or most of their premiums.

On the other hand, ICs do not enjoy such luxuries. They are often kicked out into the open marketplace, where they may have too many or too few plan options. These drivers likely have no idea where to begin, and most are not prepared to make the cost/benefit analysis necessary to choose an appropriate plan, according to Buchs’ and King’s presentation.

“If the IC is lucky, he or she has a spouse or business partner at home that has a full benefit package from their employer and they can participate in that,” King said.

With many motor carriers offering incentives for company drivers to transition to ICs, it is easier and more attractive than ever for drivers to make that move. However, those choosing to make this transition may not have considered factors like the loss of employee benefits.

Many of these ICs also may not realize that managing cash flow and profitability needs to be a priority, according to the presentation. The time has come for companies to consider how they can get information about making the transition into their ICs’ hands.

“We have a literacy problem and often a language barrier in our industry,” Buchs said. “We are different types of learners, all of us. The different ways people learn are very important. There are very educated people in trucks and there are grade school dropouts, but they’re all individuals. These are people problems, and people problems are messy problems because they involve feelings and needs and things outside the mechanical.”

Truck drivers tend to be an unhealthy group of people who struggle to keep up with their healthcare needs. Many ICs would benefit from motor carriers that are committed to providing them information about their options, such as guaranteed acceptance group policies.

“We know the difficulties drivers face day-in and day-out navigating the highways. Worried drivers are proven to be not the safest drivers,” King said. “You likely have ICs asking for assistance with these type of things right now. There are hands-off options for a motor carrier to provide, including creating an open enrollment period for their contractors. This requires no administrative work or contractual relationship for the motor carrier.”

While it may seem daunting for carriers, Buchs said having ICs who ask for help is actually a good sign. The business-minded IC is likely to ask how a carrier can help them address their concerns.

“Those drivers are the people you want to get into your organization and you want to keep long-term,” Buchs said. “If you cannot really say anything to them, they’re likely to go down the road to the next best thing.”

Buchs encouraged carriers to demonstrate empathy when addressing ICs’ concerns and work to become a valuable part of their lives, beyond just a settlement check.

“If your pay to these contractors cannot support their basic needs, perhaps the industry leaders need to take a long look at how they’re paying their people,” Buchs said. “We tend to model our contracts after our competition, but are there ways you can provide better financial stability?”

The presentation featured ways to demonstrate a supportive culture, including:

  • Share appropriate information with all driver-facing staff

  • Listen empathetically

  • Offer direction or referrals to trusted providers when you can

  • Supporting the driver’s health and well-being is as critical as supporting their equipment maintenance

  • Worried drivers are not safe drivers

Supportive culture can help ICs prepare for the future in ways they struggle to do without motor carrier support.

“A GoFundMe page is really a pretty crappy Plan B,” King said.