Truckers deliver tons of freight across North America every day. A common part of deliveries is "lumpers." Because of hours of service restrictions and liability concerns, many drivers must pay to have their truck unloaded. This unloading process is the job of lumpers.
What's a lumper? Today we'll take a look at the world of lumpers. We'll discuss why they're part of freight and how companies pay them. We'll also look at lumper receipts and discuss what information to include on them. And finally, we'll look at ways trucking companies can improve the lumper experience with technology.
So let's back this baby into the dock and unload everything there is to know about lumpers.
A lumper (sometimes called a freight handler) is a person who unloads the trailer for truck drivers. A lumper sometimes drives a forklift, operates a pallet jack, or in certain circumstances unloads a truck by hand. Usually a third party, not the receiver, employs lumpers. This is a way for companies to outsource this process and avoid the costs of employing dock personnel full time.
Why else do businesses need lumpers? Let's find out.
The main reason lumpers get used is liability concerns. These liability concerns are twofold:
Trucking companies limit liability by not unloading the freight. In essence, the goal is risk mitigation. This makes sense when you see some warehouses and distribution centers. They can be fast-moving environments. Fork lifts zig-zag pallets of freight up and down aisles all day long. The movements at a loading dock attain a certain rhythm. As forklift operators gain confidence in their ability to handle the machinery, the pace quickens even more.
It's easy to understand why so much freight gets damaged in trucking. Time is money in every aspect of logistics. Everyone is working as fast as possible, and eventually someone forgets to take the necessary safety precautions.
Not everyone likes lumpers. In fact, a lot of drivers believe lumpers are a black eye on the trucking industry. For the most part, drivers might not understand the need for a lumper. Drivers share cautionary tales of times when they've had to pay out of pocket for a lumper. Thus lumpers in general can be a touchy subject with drivers.
Here's the driver's perspective. A trucking company, shipper, or freight broker dispatches a driver to pick up a load. The driver makes the pickup and then delivers it safely and on time to the consignee. Upon arrival at the receiver, someone tells them to go talk to a third party about getting unloaded. When drivers ask why, they usually hear, "That's just the way it is."
Drivers deal with a lot of lumpers in freight—especially reefer LTL (also known as refrigerated less-than-truckload) freight. Lumpers are common at grocery chains, which use them to run the warehouses, cold storage centers, and distribution centers.
Even when a proper lumper fee is not involved, drivers still may pay off the books to get unloaded faster. I've heard a lot of drivers say they keep extra $20 bills handy to tip a lumper. If a driver has four or five less-than-truckload drops during a day, you can see how that lumper cash adds up. But that driver will tell you it's worth it.
Why? Consider the additional cost to a driver who must wait to get unloaded at an early delivery. Think about how much it costs to burn the reefer fuel used to keep the freight cold, along with the pain of rescheduling delivery appointments, and you get the picture. It's better to keep moving. But that doesn't mean a trucker needs to smile about it.
Another problem some drivers have is that they don't exactly understand why lumpers are needed. It's common in trucking for a lumper to tell a driver that part of the lumper fee is for breaking down the freight. Breaking down the pallet of freight involves something like taking one eight-foot-tall pallet and making it into two four-foot-tall pallets. If you don't understand why this is necessary, it can be frustrating.
But in reality, that eight-foot-tall pallet needs to be broken down because it can't fit on the warehouse's storage racks. Well, now the driver is frustrated because they're wondering, "Why wasn't the freight ordered on two pallets to begin with?"
It's all a matter of maximizing space.
On one hand, each trailer needs to be packed to maximum capacity. On the other, the warehouse needs to be packed to capacity. Unfortunately, the best way to pack the truck differs from the best way to pack the warehouse. To put it another way, this is the same problem as trying to put a square peg in a round hole.
Thus, lumpers are unavoidable. That said, the way lumpers get paid might change.
In the past, lumpers received payment by cash or check. This led to problems for drivers.
For one, cash can be unsafe for drivers to handle because it can lead to theft and fraud. Also, lumper checks (sometimes called comcheks) require a process that can take a frustrating amount of time.
Typically, a driver finds out about the lumper charge fee at the receiving window when they check in for delivery. Once a driver knows the charge amount, they need to pay it by cash or check. A driver must pay a lumper before getting unloaded.
Sometimes, a lumper fee comes as a surprise. A broker might tell the driver, "We aren't paying the lumper fee." A common excuse will be that "the lumper fee is included in the rate." It only needs to happen one time to a driver to leave a bitter taste and make them cautious in the future.
To avoid this situation, establish up front who will pay the lumper and what the reimbursement process will be.
What if the driver doesn't have enough cash on hand? Then they must go find an automatic teller machine. That takes additional time, especially in potentially unsafe areas. On the other hand, if the driver intends to pay by check, they must submit a charge authorization request (AR) by phone or electronically.
If the driver submits the AR over the phone, it can be difficult to get a freight broker or dispatcher to authorize a lumper charge after hours. Reefer freight often has late-night delivery times because of the nature of the food industry and the practice of unloading outside the hot daytime hours. This can lead to additional time and the frustration of waking someone with a phone call.
If dispatch or a broker knows they will be reimbursing a lumper fee, then the whole process can go much more smoothly.
Let's look at how you can manage this process better.
There are some decent tutorials on YouTube walking you through the process of requesting a comchek. It's possible to handle the request over the phone, which involves drafting a paper check. Typical information required when submitting an authorization request includes:
After that cumbersome process, the lumper gets a paper check. But in the event of cash or check lumper payment, the driver won't get a reimbursement until they submit their lumper receipt along with their proof of delivery and bill of lading.
Fortunately, tech companies have developed solutions to streamline the entire lumper experience. The company Vector has developed what it calls "perfect scan" technology. It not only takes photos of your BOL, POD, and lumper receipt, but it also autocorrects, scans barcodes, translates handwriting, and uploads these documents to the load file through the cloud.
What does that mean? It means the lumper receipt (along with any other receipts, such as a scale ticket or a truck wash documentation) will never get lost in the shuffle. Instead, the information remains organized.
It's all about speed, efficiency, and removing doubt from the process. Software like Vector's might not eliminate lumpers, but it will make the process of tracking and reimbursing lumper receipts much easier for everyone involved on a freight delivery.
The trucking industry can evolve slowly sometimes. Indeed, lumpers are one area of freight that might make you scratch your head. Who knows how long lumpers will even remain in the game?
That said, as long as lumpers are still around, remember to establish who pays up front. Then look for ways to use tech in order to help make sure you get paid.
This post was written by Brian Deines. Brian believes that every day is a referendum on a brand’s relevance, and he’s excited to bring that kind of thinking to the world of modern manufacturing and logistics. He deploys a full-stack of business development, sales, and marketing tools built through years of work in the logistics, packaging, and tier-1 part supply industries serving a customer base comprised of Fortune 1000 OEMs.