A lumper is a hired person, usually of an unskilled nature, employed to unload freight. They are a fixture in the trucking industry.

A lumper is actually a lower form of life inhabiting the world of trucking. Its relationship to the truck driver is roughly the same relationship a remora has with a shark. Both exist from nutrition obtained from the host, whether that nutrition is willingly given or not.

It would seem to make sense that a trucker's job is driving the truck, along with various attendant duties. These would include fueling the truck, doing necessary inspections of equipment both prior to and after each trip, and the ever present paperwork. The loading and unloading of the truck should be the responsibility of the shipper or consignee.

Usually the shipper does prepare his goods in accordance with industry standards and loads his product upon the truck/trailer. Often the receiver or consignee also unloads the goods he has purchased from the shipper.

There is a special little universe where these logical rules do not apply. This is the world of the grocery warehouse, that monstrous building wherein resides a 7,000 year's supply of Shredded Wheat for the typical family. Of course, the warehouse doesn't supply a single family with a 7,000 year supply, but rather thousands of families with a week's worth of the nutritious goodies. Chances are each day they will receive the same item in some quantity. There is a constant ebb and flow of products from soy sauce to toothpaste to toilet tissue, all being stocked and then depleted on a daily basis.

The huge warehouse stores these items in various ways, the most common being on large multi-tiered metal racks. A skid of a product is placed on the rack and the process is repeated hundreds of times to stock the warehouse.

Racks come in various sizes, and so do shipments of product. There is the inevitable conflict which occurs when the skid of goods doesn't fit the rack. Oh bother, what must one do to remedy this situation? One might imagine the warehouse employs sufficient manpower to make the necessary adjustment, or even better to have ordered the product configured to fit their racks. Unfortunately, that idea is a fantasy.

Mr. Truckdriver, who has just spent hours in the seat fighting traffic and scheduling, gets invited to come in and restack the goods to suit the customer. What, you say, why does he have to do this? After all, it isn't his property, so why should he be required to restack this mountain of freight because the buyer didn't have the foresight to order it in appropriately sized lots?

Mr. Truckdriver is confronted with a quandary. He can refuse to do the task, and then be unceremoniously disinvited from the property, or he can restack the freight. He learns from experience that resistance is futile, because his boss will be on the side of the customer. You know, the one who writes the check for the delivery of the goods? Yes, that's the one. Mr. Truckdriver not only has an angry consignee but a hostile boss to deal with. What's a mother to do?

The warehouse usually has a lumper service, employing a number of people whose task it is to unload the truck for a fee. The trucker can always elect to unload his own truck. Then to his amazement, there isn't anyone available to check his freight and count it so it can be entered into inventory. He gets to wait more hours that he could have used to get his rest.

Enter the lumper, a hired strong set of hands and a back to match, who will for a fee take upon himself the task of restacking the goods to fit the storage facility. Fair enough, it takes the burden from the driver, which is a good thing. However, the rub comes in the size of the fee charged. The driver has probably had to wait to be loaded, a time which can range from a few minutes to many hours. He may or may not have been compensated for that time. Then he has to make the run, deliver on time and to the right place. Then he gets to wait again for the goods to be unloaded, counted, and taken into inventory. He has a sizeable investment in time and energy. He then learns the lumper gets paid more to unload and segregate the goods than he made for all his time and driving skill.

The lumper's skill set consists of being able to count, to lift and stack goods, and little else. Many lumpers are young unskilled laborers who use the gig for quick cash. They provide a service for a price.

The insanity comes into play when the trucking company will pay the driver one rate to unload the freight but another (much higher) rate for the services of a lumper. Why is the truck driver's labor less valuable than some anonymous schmoe off the street? And to compound this already lunatic situation, the trucker is the one footing the bill. He has to pay the lumper with either cash or a funds transfer via check. He then submits the receipt for reimbursement by the shipper, tying up his funds until the shipper settles accounts. This can take weeks, in effect becoming an interest free loan to the shipper. It makes no sense that the trucker, or trucking company, should be forced into the role of creditor in this transaction. If the warehouse requires manually restacking goods to fit their infrastructure, it should be their responsibility, not that of the trucking company. In effect, it allows the warehouse to transfer a large part of its labor costs onto another party. It's a good deal for the warehouse. They avoid the additional labor cost, the fringe benefits, the workman's compensation, social security, and other expenses associated with hiring additional labor. It makes good business sense to transfer costs to other parties.

Fairness would indicate that the payment for any additional labor be either borne by the receiver or shared by the shipper and their customer. The trucking company simply shouldn't have a dog in that fight.

The role of the truck driver as freight handler has been an issue for decades. Some strides have been made in making it a more equitable situation. Many trucking companies now charge for their driver and equipment after a certain amount of 'free time' has elapsed. The new hours of service regulations make the adage 'time is money' more true than ever. No longer is it easy to just make the large amounts of unproductive time disappear with the stroke of a pencil. Improvements have been long coming and hard earned. Further improvements are needed.

Lump"er (?), n. [Cf. Lamper eel.] Zool.

The European eelpout; -- called also lumpen.

 

© Webster 1913.


Lump"er, n.

1.

One who lumps.

2.

A laborer who is employed to load or unload vessels when in harbor.

 

© Webster 1913.

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