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IMPERIAL OIL

The Perks of the Job

by Jim Park
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It's not just about money. You can add up your pay package any number of ways, rolling in all the stops, picks 'n drops, border crossings, etc., and perhaps come up with a cent-per-mile value, but there's often more on the table than appears on the pay schedule. We're talking about the perks and benefits offered by carriers to sweeten the pot.

Chances are, if you pick up the phone and ask the recruiter what the job pays, you might not get the whole picture if you don't stay on the phone long enough to hear the whole pitch. You'd be surprised what some of the packages can add up to.

With a formal benefits package, its value is not what the carrier spends to offer the package, but what benefit you derive from it at year's end. Sure, the value is often taxable, but that's not the carrier's fault. Still, if a $50,000-a-year job becomes a $53,000 job because of benefits paid out to you, you're really looking at the equivalent of about a three-cent-a-mile raise. However, if you don't take advantage of the benefits, they're not doing you much good. Here are two examples:

Steve, aged 28, has a wife who is self-employed and working from home while tending to the couple's two school-age children. Dave is 53, divorced, and living on his own. His financial responsibilities to the family are more or less behind him, although he is contributing to the cost of his kid's post-secondary education. Do these two drivers need the same benefits package?

No. Steve would have more day-to-day costs associated with raising his family - some of which could be taken care of through the right family benefits plan, while Dave could probably make better use of a higher rate of pay. If they both had the same package, possibly costing the carrier a few thousand a year, Dave wouldn't be getting the same benefits from the package that Steve would, and - all other things being equal - might benefit from a discussion with the carrier over how to provide a plan he could use, or a raise in lieu of benefits.

Drivers with young families will experience a greater need for help with prescription medicines, vision and dental care, and possibly orthodontic services. A set of braces for a child's teeth can easily hit $4,000 or higher. And since his spouse is self-employed, chances are she has no plan. If Steve were shopping for a job, he'd do well to consider a carrier that offers such a plan.

What's on the Table?
Steve, like the rest of us, will ultimately find himself in Dave's position, with schooling to pay for and other costs, so in searching for plan, it's good to consider your immediate needs as well as long-term needs like retirement and education-savings plans. The problem with plans like that is few drivers retire with the carrier they start out with. Consequently, few carriers offer plans with long-term advantages. That's not to say they are unavailable, but the need may not be obvious in a transient workforce. The high driver turnover rate has had some unexpected and unfortunate consequences.

Plans that cover health care costs, such as prescription drug plans, dental plans, and vision care plans are available. If you consider the needs of a young family as opposed to a more mature family, you'll see how those needs change. Asking about tailored plans, or searching out a carrier that offers a plan that suits the needs of its workers is a must. You'll find the offerings run the gamut today, so it's worth hanging on the line a bit longer than it takes the recruiter to explain how the mileage rate works.

The plans are available, but they are expensive. Some carriers opt for less comprehensive packages in order to keep costs down, and if there's a low buy-in rate to begin with, some may opt to drop the benefits plans altogether. Sometimes a co-pay arrangement works, with the employer offering a menu of options, and the employee sharing the cost of the more expensive options. Twenty or thirty bucks a week is easier to take than a $4,000 orthodontist bill, especially if the youngsters play hockey.

Speaking to the recruiters about your need for a plan that suits your lifestyle may prompt carriers to reevaluate what they are offering. How will they know what you need if it never comes up in conversation?

Older drivers may discover they are less in need of a comprehensive dental plan, and more likely to need hearing care or possibly a geriatric or homecare plan for older spouses. As we age our needs change, so it makes sense to keep up with the changes, and keep on top of the benefits plan offerings is a way of keeping the costs of living manageable.

It's worth noting that owner-operators, by virtue of the fact that they are not employees of the carrier, are often not eligible to participate in the carrier benefits plans. They may, however, buy into the plans, or be able to buy third-party offerings to cover their needs. It's hard to buy insurance of this sort as an individual, so look for group benefits through some other organization such as an industry association, or your local chamber of commerce.

Less Tangible Benefits
Aside from the mileage and incidental rates, some carriers offer some pretty creative ways of reducing operating costs, which works out the same as in increase in the rate if you take advantage of the benefit.

Fuel price caps are the most obvious: fuel capped at, say 47¢, is a considerable savings over the pump price. If that works out to a nickel-a-mile reduction in operating costs, you're really putting a nickel a mile more in your pocket.

Other carrier-offered advantages could include reduced rates in the company shop, tires and parts at fleet discounts, use of satellites or cell phones at company discounts, etc. Even being allowed to take the power unit home on weekends could be considered a benefit as it might eliminate the need to buy a second car for getting back and forth to the yard.

Long-term relationships can also produce some goodwill benefits, not necessarily stated in the fine print: things like flights home to tend with a family crisis, short-term loans, credit approvals, etc. Good carriers tend to look after their people. It's worth asking long-term employees of a carrier what kinds of things they've seen over the years. With no formal policy in place, a carrier probably won't announce or declare such things, but folks who've been around may have seen it.

We've even heard of carriers who offer the use of the boss's chalet or fishing camp to drivers as a benefit or bonus. It's unlikely that that one appeared in the recruiting literature, but if it's there, it's a benefit, and it's one more reason to spend a bit more time on the phone with the recruiter. They might just have interesting little tricks up their sleeves.