As the United States faces growing competition in the global market, businesses need to improve inbound and outbound freight, as well as warehouse operations. Any enhancements in the efficiency of freight transportation are magnified many times over in the supply chain, thereby creating a competitive edge for those economies that experience high-efficiency and low-cost transport.
One such enhancement in freight transportation is “lumping” – an informal term describing the loading and unloading of truck freight by individuals other than employees of motor carriers, shippers, or receivers.
Lumper services have long been recognized as an integral part of the motor carrier industry. However, over time, the economic factors associated with these services have become more important to motor carriers, which are compelled by increasingly competitive conditions to provide more services to customers, including loading and unloading, without higher rates to cover their expenses.
Brief History of the Term “Lumper”
Although the origins of this term are somewhat unclear, “lumpers” have been around for ages and most people presume that the “lump” in question was a quantity of some bulk good like sugar, grain, or some other commodity. A contemporary “lumper” is most often one who works to unpack trucks at a loading dock, though in some cases the term is used for laborers who unload ships.
Why Lumper Services Get a Bad Rap
A quick Google search of trucking forums shows that many in the industry have had unpleasant experiences with lumpers. So pervasive is this opinion that we set out to diagnose the problem and explain why a properly managed lumper program is an asset to both the host company and the drivers who visit it.
Commonly Cited Issues with Lumpers
- This is the most commonly cited problem; drivers being blindsided by lumper requirements and feeling extorted.
- Several drivers felt that the lumper team was slow to action or took an inordinate amount of time to unload their truck so they could head out.
- Unfair rates
- In some cases, drivers reported being charged unfairly or seeing others get preferential rates for lumper services, making the whole thing seem like a racket.
On one forum post, a driver described the lumper function as being filled by the company owner’s brother-in-law and his friends, and characterized the team as disorganized. That being said, there is a marked difference between an in-house lumper setup and a managed unloading service delivered on a contract basis.
Importance and Benefits of Lumper Services
The use of lumpers is sometimes a result of a decision to outsource or contract out loading and unloading activities. In general, these third-party services provide a crucial logistical function by providing a mechanism for fulfilling the needs of motor carriers, shippers, and receivers in performing the loading and unloading of carrier equipment. Lumpers provided by an expert 3PL or inbound logistics services are members of a well-managed team that provide a net benefit to all parties in the supply chain.
Moreover, lumper services offer an alternative for hand loading or unloading by drivers so that they can successfully meet time-sensitive schedules and minimize their exposure to fatigue and injury. Consequently, lumpers provide social benefits by reinforcing the safety of the freight and trucking industries.
Here are the benefits associated with lumper services:
For the Carrier
- Reduced driver fatigue
- Reduced health and injury risks for the driver
For the Shipper
- Improved relations with customers/receivers
- Reduced loading time during periods of normal shipping demand
For the Receiver
- Increased ability to fulfill peak unloading periods
- Reduced unloading times during normal demand periods
- Facilitating floor load conversions to in-house pallet configurations
For the Driver
- Faster unloading
- More time to rest
Current Practices of the Lumper Service Industry
Third-party loading/unloading companies have been utilized more than conventional wisdom would suggest. As might be expected, the bigger the carrier, the more likely it uses a lumper service. Most lumping takes place at unloading sites, including private and public warehouses. Some third-party lumping firms offer services in addition to loading and unloading, including warehousing, temporary employees, consulting, and brokerage services.
According to a research study conducted by the University of Iowa, non-unitized cargo involve lumpers almost twice as much as unitized shipments Therefore, using unitized cargo lessens, but does not eliminate, the need to use lumper services. As a matter of fact, certain shipment types entail greater use of lumpers on unitized shipments than other types of loads. For instance, carriers of refrigerated goods and agricultural commodities use lumper services on their unitized loads more than general freight carriers.
Carriers, receivers, and shippers using lumping services should consider the use of third-party loading/unloading companies to decrease some of the issues and liabilities related to lumping. As is the case in any decision to outsource a task to an outside firm, the selection of a particular company should follow careful consideration of its service record and relationship with its workers. If these firms can compete with self-employed lumpers in terms of of rates and service, the use of third-party companies could very well become an attractive option for carriers, shippers, and receivers. In fact, the study outlines in detail many advantages of third-party organizations versus independent lumpers, which are often accompanied by the problems of organization and effectiveness listed above.
Costa Solutions is the leading lumper service for many industries. Contact us today for managed labor unloading services for truck, container, and railcar.