Trucking for Newbies: What Are Lumpers?
Lumpers. To be honest, if you didn't grow up in trucking it sounds like a made-up word. When you get into the refrigerated trucking industry like K & J, you will encounter lumpers on a daily basis; yet it is a word virtually foreign to those outside the industry. Today we will cover all your questions about lumpers: who they are, why they exist, who pays them, and who hires them.
What is a Lumper?
A lumper is a laborer who works loading or unloading cargo goods. They are generally third-party employees, meaning they aren't directly employed by the driver's company or by the customer. Lumpers are used primarily for food or grocery goods, but occasionally in other areas of trucking as well.
Lumpers and truckers have a long-standing and complicated love/hate relationship.
Who Hires Them?
They are usually third-party employees. Ideally lumpers are hired by legitimate lumping companies that implement proper trainings for their employees, maintain worker's compensation programs, and hold liability insurance on the work done by their employees, but sometimes that is not the case and lumpers are free agents who cut deals with drivers and docks on the fly.
Not all customers use lumpers, it depends on the industry and individual union laws. You primarily see lumpers in industries where getting unloaded is a constant battle (such as groceries) and where doing so in a timely manner is vital for the quality of the goods.
Some trucking companies allow their drivers to lump their own loads. At K & J, we have chosen not to take on that liability or stress for our drivers. Instead we are happy to pay for the service to keep our drivers safe and give them more flexibility in their schedule.
Who Pays Them and How Much Do They Make?
Usually lumpers are paid in lump sums of cash by truck drivers who need their goods unloaded. The drivers are reimbursed by their trucking company who is reimbursed by the end customer. Sound confusing? It is.
Lumpers normally make a modest hourly rate, usually around $12.50 an hour according to indeed.com. However, those who want to scam the system can make more than this by negotiating for paid favors (like faster unload times). It is technically legal for the lumpers to operate, where it becomes illegal is when lumpers don't claim their cash income to the IRS or when customers refuse to reimburse trucking companies and drivers for the cost of the lumper.
If you are just getting started in trucking, be sure you understand your company's policy on paying lumpers and make sure you are covered so it isn't money out of your pocket.
Why did the Trucking Industry Start using Lumpers?
Lumpers have always existed in one form or another since trucking began. We've always needed people to unload trucks. Prior to the 1980s this was more often than not part of the truck driver's job. During that time drivers would sometimes hire out the work of unloading to transient people hanging around the docks. To the driver it was an easy and cheap way to grab a quick break or nap during their busy day.
As the trucking industry deregulated in the early 1980s, more and more trucking companies were entering the playing field. These companies didn't want to pay their drivers to unload their own loads, they wanted to strictly pay per mile since freight rates were already low and drivers weren't going to work unloading for free. Meanwhile, most grocery store chains and docks had strict union laws that prevented dock workers from entering trailers. This is where the concept of third-party lumpers really started to gain popularity. With high unemployment rates at that point in history, it was easy for both drivers and dock workers to find willing lumpers.
After awhile everyone just got used to lumpers existing. It is now the new normal.
Whether you hate lumpers, love lumpers or love to hate lumpers, they have become a necessary part of the trucking system. Do you have more questions about lumpers or other trucking industry lingo? Let us know in the comments and we will try to address it in a future blog!
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