WITH an eye on ensuring a plentiful driver supply, Highway Transport’s leadership has launched a new effort to make the tank truck carrier the preferred employer over the long-term. Launched in mid-May, the program has already generated positive response.
As part of the program, Knoxville, Tennessee-based Highway Transport launched a new overhauled pay system and announced the largest truck driver compensation package in the company’s 68-plus-year history. All Highway Transport drivers nationwide at all locations are seeing an increase in both hourly and mileage pay.
After carefully gathering input from drivers, Highway Transport did away with the old traditional bi-weekly pay system in favor of an entirely new weekly pay approach.
With the new pay package, a system/over-the-road driver can expect to earn a gross annual average of $69,000. Regional drivers can expect to earn a gross annual average of $60,000. Drivers enjoy an executive-style suite of benefits that exceeds most other carriers. The driver package also includes paid vacation and holidays, group-term life, AD&D, medical insurance, and 401K.
The biggest change is in compensation for regional drivers. These drivers hauling loads less than 150 miles are now paid by the hour. With the new hourly wage, a driver gains a clearer understanding of what he/she is being paid for every hour of work, whether it is driving or unloading. In the past, drivers received a guaranteed annual rate.
“These pay enhancements reflect Highway Transport’s desire to not only recruit new drivers but retain our most crucial asset, the professional chemical tanker drivers currently employed by Highway Transport who are trained on our systems and have in-depth understanding our customers,” says Marshall Franklin, president and chief financial officer. “The driver shortage is real, and those companies that figure out how to retain their drivers will succeed. At Highway, we are trying to structure our culture, compensation and benefits so that it becomes a difficult decision for a driver to leave our company.”
Joe Sheldon, Highway Transport director of recruiting, adds that the new pay package certainly has grabbed wide driver attention. “The program is generating more interest, and we are seeing more success in our recruiting efforts,” he says. “Our recruiting classes are larger. Our turnover rate remains stable in the 30% range.”
Since the family-owned company was founded in 1948, Highway Transport has been an industry leader in pay packages for professional tanker truck drivers. The carrier currently has 280 company drivers and 20 owner-operators.
The drivers operate fleet that includes 310 tractors and 533 tank trailers that haul a wide range of liquid bulk chemicals, including latex emulsions, acrylates, cleaning compounds, and solvents.
The fleet serves customers across the 48 United States and Canada. Drivers, tractors, and trailers are dispersed among 12 terminals located in Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.
While truck drivers joining Highway Transport are not required to have chemical tanker experience, drivers who join Highway with tank experience will have a starting pay that is higher than drivers with no tank experience.
The carrier does prefer drivers with tanker experience, and it requires a minimum of one year of driving with a commercial driver license. The minimum age is 22.
“Professional drivers that have experience with our equipment and understand our systems and customers should make more money,” says Greg Watkins, vice-chairman of Highway Transport. “We also seek to balance work time and home time for our drivers. We know how important it is for our drivers to spend quality time with their families. My Family—the Watkins Family—is a solid trucking family. Trucking and logistics will always be at our core. We have a lifelong commitment to all employees and their families.”
According to Greg Watkins, the pay changes were made with the best interests of drivers in mind, “Our company’s legacy allows us to offer exceptional income and benefits that are above and beyond all other tank carriers. Ultimately though, it’s about family time. Our driver managers are the best at helping drivers maximize their time at home.”
In addition to competitive pay and being part of the family, another attractive feature at Highway Transport is the equipment. Highway has an industry-wide reputation for having some of the newest, best-looking equipment on the road. Watkins adds, “Over the past five years we have been replacing our tractors with new model Macks, and by the end of 2018, all of our older tractors will have been replaced. Plus, we have our own shops with highly-skilled personnel who have been with Highway Transport for many years.”
Highway Transport has always been a big user of Mack Trucks products. “We like the Mack product in general,” says Larry Edwards, Highway Transport fleet director. “It’s a good solid truck that does a good job for our tanker fleet.”
Most of the company tractor fleet is barely four years old. Tractors are replaced to ensure that the carrier obtains the latest technology to improve safety, reliability, and driver environment inside and out.
“We added 186 new tractors over the past four years, and we are buying another 58 in 2017,” Edwards says. “As a Smart Way carrier, we do a lot of replacement to make sure we run equipment with the latest technology to maximize efficiency and productivity.”
The newest Mack Pinnacles have Mack’s 13-liter MP8 engine rated at 485 horsepower and set for a maximum speed of 65 miles per hour. “That’s the sweet spot,” Edwards says.
Eighty percent of the company tractors in the fleet were specified with Mack’s mDrive 12-speed automated transmissions. “Drivers have been very satisfied with the mDrive transmission,” Edwards says.
Safety technology in the tractors includes Omnitracs on-board computers used for electronic driver logs and Bendix Advanced with collision avoidance. New tractors and trailers are specified with Bendix disc brakes.
Jost fifthwheels with a 52-inch height are standard for the fleet. Product-handling equipment includes a twin-cylinder, 37-cfm air compressor to supply vehicle needs and handle air offloading; Roper product pump; aluminum hose rack; and product hoses from Hart Industries.
Chemical tank trailers in the fleet are from Brenner Tank, Bulk Manufacturing, and Stainless Tank & Equipment. Most of the tank trailers in the fleet are single compartment, but the carrier has 70 multi-compartment tanks, most of which are in dedicated service.
The newest Brenner DOT407 insulated trailers have a 6,500-gallon capacity and were constructed to handle heavier products. Fabricated from 2205 stainless steel, the 10-gauge tanks offer better strength and corrosion resistance.
Tank hardware includes Betts valves and Girard pressure- and vacuum-relief vents. Girard vapor vents are controlled from the ground to help keep drivers off the tanks.
Safety equipment includes a ladder that provides more fall protection for drivers. Trailers purchased since 2006 have Bendix roll stability.
Trailer specs include Jost landing gear and Truck Lite LED lighting. Running gear includes Hendrickson Intraax air suspension/axle systems with Tiremaax Pro set to maintain tire inflation at 100 psi. ♦