What Is a Lumper Service? A Complete Introduction

July 10, 2020

You're not alone if you think lumper service is an odd-sounding term. It's most certainly not something you'd figure out just by guessing. Today I'm going to give a basic introduction of what a lumper service is. Not only that, but you'll also find out how they work and why they exist. In some cases, shippers, customers, or both require lumper services. I'll answer some basic questions:

  • What is a lumper service?
  • How does a lumper service work?
  • Does it cost you anything?
  • Do you have to use it?

Let's start right from the top on basic education of the term itself.

What Is a Lumper Service?

A lumper service is when a shipper or receiver hires third-party workers to help load and unload freight from the trailers or trucks arriving at their facility. There are a few reasons for this. Chief among them is the intention to give drivers an opportunity to rest and recuperate while someone else loads or empties the trailers. Lumper services are most common in food warehouses.

Basically, the thinking here is that drivers are already on the road for so many hours of their day. Therefore, you want to avoid additional strain on the driver at various stops. By having a third-party service handle this job, the benefit should, in theory, be threefold:

  • Drivers get more time to rest.
  • Drivers avoid risking injury on unfamiliar docks.
  • Quicker loading or unloading allows drivers to save time.

Unfortunately, nothing is ever quite that simple. In this case, drivers may question the efficacy of the final point above.

That said, let's hold that thought for a moment and dive into how a lumper service actually functions.

How Do Lumper Services Work?

As I've established, a lumper service is a number of third parties hired to service the docks of shippers and receivers. Ultimately these services are provided by third-party companies specializing in lumper service offerings. What these companies are offering are professionals who understand the puzzle-piece nature of loading trailers.

You'll find that there are some very common complaints from customers regarding deliveries in the grocery space. Most notably, there are instances of the cargo falling over in transit and being damaged. Here you find one of the top selling points of lumper service companies.

So how do they work? Put simply, the third party works on a regular basis with these docks. A charge for the service then goes to either the carrier or the shipper.

Typically, drivers would and should know when to expect a lumper service before arrival. However, this isn't always the case. This is another source of driver frustration with lumper services in general.

Do Companies Ever Use In-House Lumpers?

Yes, but it's uncommon. Generally speaking, in-house dock workers have a couple of disadvantages. First, packing trailers isn't their only responsibility. Whereas third parties focus only on the science of loading trailers effectively, in-house dock workers have other duties. Thus, they may not be as proficient. Worse, they might even rush through the loading and unloading of the trailer to get to their other work.

More often than not, you'll find a third-party service when you arrive at a shipper or receiver.

What Does a Lumper Service Cost?

You'll find lumper services to have an extremely wide range of costs. I've seen lumper fees as low as $25 and as high as $500. Theoretically, the difference in rates comes from the amount of work and labor hours needed to complete the service.

In accordance with the variance, lumper fees are paid at the time at the time of service rather than ahead of time. Unfortunately, this means your driver is responsible for paying for the lumper service on site. As mentioned previously, this is where some drivers can become upset.

This is where, as a carrier, it's important when booking your loads to try to know ahead of time if lumper fees will be required, so drivers can at least be prepared.

Who's Really Paying?

While the drivers are paying the lumper service on site, they're not really responsible for eating the cost out of pocket.

First, carriers will reimburse their drivers. If you're a carrier, you can do this in a couple of ways. The most popular with drivers is by issuing a Comchek or an Electronic Funds Source (EFS) check. These are electronic forms of payment that drivers can redeem automatically. This way, your driver can recover that all-important cash for other necessities on their trip.

Alternatively, carriers might also reimburse their drivers after the fact in their paychecks.

Still, the carriers are not the responsible party for the ultimate payment of the lumper service. Payment owed is the core responsibility of the shipper or broker who has booked the load. Following reimbursement from the carrier to the driver, it's then the responsibility of the shipper or broker to reimburse the carrier. The carrier provides the shipper broker with a lumper receipt. This completes the chain. In other words:

  1. The shipper or broker hires the lumper service.
  2. The driver pays the lumper service on site.
  3. Drivers receive reimbursement, either in real time or by paycheck from the carrier.
  4. The carrier gets a reimbursement from the shipper or broker in their freight payment.

Now comes the biggest question you and your drivers likely have.

Do You Have a Choice to Use the Lumper Service?

Some shippers and receivers will absolutely insist on your using their lumper service. If your driver is adamant that he or she won't use the service, then there's one main rule you need to know.

Drivers have every right to refuse lumper service if they're being asked to use the service without the promise of reimbursement. You don't have to pay a lumper if you're not guaranteed reimbursement. That's flat-out illegal.

However, you may notice the loophole here. This rule applies only if there's no reimbursement. Docks may enforce the lumper requirement if there's repayment. The decision will vary from dock to dock.

Why Would Drivers Want to Refuse Lumper Service?

I've alluded to the dissatisfaction some drivers have with lumper services. So why is that? There are a few reasons.

  • Surprise fees: I mentioned this earlier, but it remains a deterrent for drivers.
  • Control of the load: Some drivers simply just want control over as much of their load as possible. They trust they know how to load their own trailer better than anyone else.
  • Time: Even more than the other two reasons, drivers complain about time. Theoretically, lumper service should save drivers time. In some cases, they do. However, drivers often believe that they don't. Lumper services have a tendency to fall behind during high-volume times. Further, lumpers often do their re-stacking on the trailer itself, which can be a time-consuming process on its own. Drivers often feel their time and hours of service are being wasted waiting for slow lumpers.

The Sum of It All

Lumper service is an extremely common part of logistics. Truly, these services are a great help to shippers, receivers, and carriers alike. Drivers may have their individual concerns, which are up for debate. In my experience, their complaints are valid sometimes, and other times they're just a matter of preference.

The most important things to remember are to be prepared. Ask the right questions. Know when lumpers will be required. Make sure you get receipts and submit them quickly, using electronic methods if possible. You'll adapt more quickly than you think.

This post was written by Matthew Zandstra. Matt has been working in transportation and logistics dispatch for the past six years, both as a broker and direct to drivers. He’s familiar with various facets of relationships, technical systems, pricing mechanics, and commodities.

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