We were waiting on our agent to provide us with a $1,000,000 general commercial liability and “bobtail” quote for a late-model tractor we recently purchased at auction.
I decided to “develop” business to generate revenue by applying to carriers that used (emphasis) owner-operators. We got the bobtail quote but without a valid lease agreement or letter of intent, no reputable insurer would underwrite a “bobtail” policy enabling us to even move our new tractor.
It dawned on me that the system was rigged against owner-operators.
Owner-operators are like guppies being eaten greedly by larger fish; huge multinational conglomerates masquerading as national carriers. I had spoken to one several times earlier that day. And impatiently penned an e-mail respectfully but courteously asking that they expedite “qualifying” me. I needed either an actual lease agreement or letter of intent to move the tractor.
An older, asthmatic-sounding, female employee, assigned ostensibly to process owner-operator applications, was unswayed by my sly attempt to prod her into action, though. She sent me an e-mail, two hours after receiving back my reference check simply saying, “thank you”. For what, I had no clue. Vacillating wildly between annoyance and apprehension like a manic-depressive in his depressed state, I grew more despondent until I realized something.
No business engaging in commerce with another business initiates the process by filling out an “employment application,” period. Transactional B2B relationships are formed through either an agreement or a contract. I had this epiphany while remembering how I started in the industry over thirty years ago as a businessman, a contractor.
And realized that the carriers were treating me exactly the way they treated company “drivers” with overt disdain. Because they figured correctly that if I didn’t know enough about either business or law to understand that for a transactional relationship to work equitably, there must be parity with both partners respecting each other as such. And not as these carriers were doing, which was treating me as if I were an insignificant clog in their operational wheel – their hierarchy. Like I was a subordinate; or, worst, an employee.
So, I vowed from here on out to approach my business like a businessman, shun companies claiming they need to comply with US DOT FMCSA regulations, which do not actually require them to “qualify” owner-operators. But everyone, carriers, and contractors alike, fell into lockstep, caught up inextricably in a vicious cycle where carriers mistreat contractors as employees; and, contractors meekly accept this mistreatment much like an abused and battered wife.
I now demand either an agreement or a contract. Compliance with 49 CFR 391.51 is strictly my responsibility – not the carriers. If carriers don’t agree, we agree to disagreed (and part ways) amicably.
If owner-operators want to be treated like equals, they need to begin to demand respect by acting like businesspersons: the independent contractors they are, taking considerable risks necessary to realize financial self-sufficiency.