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Dump-truck reps leave meeting with little hope for return to minimum rates

An operator loads a dump truck along Interstate 894 in West Allis in 2017. Representatives of the dump-truck industry recently met with state lawmakers to pitch possible remedies to ills they say have long plagued their industry. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

Representatives of the dump-truck industry left a meeting with state lawmakers earlier this month with a sense that they’d probably get some sort of government relief for the ills they say have long plagued their industry.

But it’s unlikely to come in the form of the minimum trucking rates that many had hoped for. Ron Lingford, president of the United Dump Truck Association of Wisconsin, said his pitch for the re-institution of the minimum truck rates that Wisconsin had had in place until 1995 was met with a lukewarm reception when  he put it before a pair of powerful Republican lawmakers more than a week ago.

Both Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, and state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, were present when about 65 representative of the dump-truck industry gathered on July 16 for a meeting at Burlington City Hall. Lingford said he and others spent the majority of the time explaining why the industry has struggled for years to be paid at rates high enough to compensate employees in accordance with the law and keep up with maintenance and other obligations.

Many possible remedies to the situation were floated and some seemed to be entertained as viable options. One that did not was a proposal to re-adopt the mandatory rates that, until their elimination in 1995, had ensured owner-operators would receive no less than a certain amount for every hour worked on a state job.

“I really don’t think they want to move on that,” Lingford said.

Scott Kelly, chief of staff for Sen. Wanggaard, confirmed that the senator is not ruling out any possible remedies for the trucking industry but that a minimum rate is not “what Van came out of the meeting focused on.”

Rather than a minimum rate, Lingford said, more time was spent at the July 16 meeting talking about policy changes the Wisconsin Department of Transportation might be able to make on its own. One possibility would be to require state contracts to have a separate line item stating exactly what dump-truck owner-operators are to be paid for a particular job. Having that information listed explicitly should make it easier, Lingford said, for state inspectors to ensure money paid for a specific type of work is actually going to the intended purpose. Another idea is to have state contracts include a clause that causes payment rates to increase when the cost of fuel rises.

Long before the recent rises in the price of diesel fuel and other supplies, Lingford and others in the industry had been warning that dump-truck owner-operators were struggling to cover their costs. The loss of the minimum truck rates in 1995 opened the business to unfettered competition.

Owner-operators the best way to win work was to accept low rates of payment. Many, Lingford said, found the only way to reduce their costs was to skimp on maintenance or pay their employees less than is required by federal Davis-Bacon prevailing wages.

Now with inflation making owner-operators’ already thin margins only thinner, Lingford and others are warning that the road-building industry could soon find dump trucks to be in short supply. George Schroeder, who was also at the July 16 meeting and who owns SPS Trucking in Burlington, said he still thinks the industry’s woes won’t be alleviated until something like a minimum trucking rate is reinstituted. But he’s also not optimistic that any sort of step in that direction will be taken soon.

He said one danger is that lawmakers – perhaps more concerned with getting re-elected this year – will let the next round of state roadwork be bid out without any sort of new protections in place.

“The big problem it it’s an election year,” Schroeder said. “But the other problem these jobs that are being let now will be providing us with work for the next 12 months.”

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