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Commercial Carrier Journal 

Paying dividends
By Sean Kelley

A.C. Trucking
Location: Manteca, California
Principal: Al Nunes
Equipment: 25 Kenworth T800s and Freightliner FLDs equipped with Caterpillar, Cummins and Detroit Diesel Engines; Eaton Fuller 9-, 10- and 13-speed transmissions; 80 dry vans, 20 flatbed and curtain sides, and four tankers; 15 owner-operators.
Freight: Consumer and food products, lumber, fertilizer and animal feed.
Challenge: Improving safety record and keeping insurance premiums low.
Solution: Quarterly review and bonus program.

During his 30-plus-year trucking career, it has always been Al Nunes philosophy that if it isn't safe, don't do it. But until a few years ago, the president of California-based A.C. Trucking didn't really have a system to measure employees safety performance.

Now, as other trucking companies are facing large increases in liability insurance, Nunes is watching his rates stay steady and his company receive awards for safety. Nobody looked at safety records as close as we do today, he says. Now, we show improvement every year.

Four years ago, A.C. Trucking the A stands for Al, and the C for wife Carol began a quarterly review system of all its employees, not just drivers. Bonuses are tied to the review system, which focuses on 10 areas that affect safety and performance. Nunes brought in a safety consultant to verify the system and tweaked it for simplicity. Now, drivers, mechanics and office personnel know their quarterly bonuses depend on their attention to safety.

Given a fleet size of 25 company power units and 15 owner-operators, Nunes can and does perform the reviews himself. He follows a simple review sheet and uses the meeting to go over his expectations for his employees. Drivers are graded on their attendance and observance of work hours; grooming and proper dress; safety practices and driving record; attention to company policy; communication; quality and volume of work; willingness to accept change and direction; appearance of truck and care and operation of equipment; damage to loads or shortages; and logs and neatness of paperwork.

Each category has an effect on productivity and safety, Nunes says. He grades drivers on a line ranging from not satisfactory to superior. Employees rarely receive grades of above standard or superior for categories where they are expected to perform well, like attendance. Under the system, drivers receive points, which are used to calculate their bonus. Longevity also plays a roll in the bonus structure, which can reward a driver with as much as $1,500 a year.

Because the program rewards drivers on a quarterly basis, Nunes says there's an incentive for an under-performing driver to improve immediately. They aren't penalized for the whole year based on one quarters performance. Almost always, drivers improve after a negative review. Nunes hasn't had to use the system to fire drivers, because if a driver doesn't improve he usually leaves the company.

The attention to safety has paid off, not only in maintaining insurance premiums, but in recognition and publicity as well. In 2000, the California Trucking Association named the company as the safest fleet with revenues of less than $10 million. CTA reviews the safety and maintenance records of carriers as well as their on-road safety performance to determine award winners. There are 12 divisional winners, from which two are selected as safest fleets based on revenues. Prior to being named safest fleet, A.C. Trucking had finished first in its division for three straight years.

Nunes credits much of his success to veteran managers like Safety Director Don Gomes, who has been with Nunes since he started the trucking company 31 years ago. Gomes was recognized by CTA in 2001 as the California Fleet Safety Professional of the Year, an award given based on his professional qualifications as well as his success in advancing on-highway and workplace safety at his company.

When we started looking to develop a good safety program we brought in a safety person who was a driver, Nunes says. He believes that its important that a safety director interact with drivers as often as possible. Gomes sees his drivers daily, through a window that connects his office with the driver break room. We put him next to dispatch so that he sees every driver every day, Nunes says. Its a good opportunity to talk with drivers about safety.

Nunes also credits his maintenance chief, Vern McBride, with helping to ensure safety in the shop as well. Although shop safety often gets less attention in the industry than on-the-road safety, the workers compensation situation in California makes it especially important. McBride, who like Gomes has been with A.C. Trucking for 31 years, helps evaluate mechanics with a program similar to one used for drivers. Before the safety program was instituted, there were several workers compensation claims that hurt the business, which is why the shop is included in the program.

Trucks and trailers are brought in for inspection on alternating months, and every truck gets a full mechanical inspection every two months. If there's a problem, its fixed immediately. That attitude is passed on to drivers and helps keep them out of trouble on the road.

For 31 years, Don Gomes, Al Nunes and Vern McBride have kept an eye on safety with their Northern California trucking company.
Like drivers, mechanics are graded in 10 areas, although they are different: productivity; quality of work; knowledge and skill; work relationship with management and other employees; punctuality and dependability; innovation and resourcefulness; efforts to reduce shop waste; attendance; safe work habits; and care of company equipment.

Getting results
The review sheet was more complicated when it was first introduced in 1998, but Nunes quickly pared it down to simple points employees could quantify and improve on. The effect has been important to the company's bottom line. Drivers show up at customers clean and dressed and their loads are seldom damaged or short.

Likewise, trucks are seldom placed out of service because the shop knows its bonuses are on the line. Across the board, the effort has impacted safety. Workmans comp claims used to be a big concern in the shop, Nunes says. But we haven't had a problem there in a while.

But perhaps the biggest benefit for the carrier is financial. We've had no rise in insurance premiums this year, Gomes says. Its a tool to keep rates down. That's important for a carrier with just $4 million in revenue especially since A.C. Trucking lost two of his most experienced drivers to retirement. Experienced drivers tend to have the best safety record, but Nunes says individual attention and constant training can help overcome inexperience.

When you see something they need correcting, you have to correct it, he says. Its also important to get an employees attention. That's one reason why Nunes does the evaluations himself. Since I'm able to evaluate, I have their ear. I can comment on the things they're doing well and the things they're not doing well.

New drivers aren't eligible for the bonus until they've been with the company 90 days, and they don't tend to recognize the value of the program, Nunes says. But once they start getting checks for being safe, presentable and on time, they buy into it.

Nunes also encourages his drivers to compete in driving competitions and works with another carrier to practice for CTA's yearly truck driving championship. The competitions, which focus on skill and safety, help keep the techniques of A.C. Trucking drivers sharp.

The effort towards safety not only helps keep insurance rates in check, it helps build business. Customers of A.C. Trucking recognize the effort, Nunes says, and send as much business his way as they can. You are as good as you are safe, he says. I can make a truck and driver look great, but your record is what speaks for you. If a load is damaged, it doesn't matter what you look like.

The bonus and review program are saving money for the small regional hauler and helping in other areas, like driver retention, as well. But the most important function of the program relates to the bottom line: How well we do as a business is directly correlated with safety, Nunes says.

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"AC Trucking among safest"


For the fifth year in a row, AC Trucking received top honors from the California Trucking Association in May at a statewide competition.

Competing against at least 50 other trucking companies from around the region and through-out the state, the Manteca-based trucking company took first place in their category at the May 15 CTA conference at the Sheraton Hotel in Sacramento.

Don Gomes, safety director and a 30-year employee at AC Trucking, was also selected as Safety Director of the Year, something he never expected to receive.

"I was quite, shocked," said Gomes of receiving the title for his first time this year. "It was a complete surprise."

AC Trucking competed with fellow trucking companies who maintained less than two million miles and had revenue of less than $10 million last year.

Their awards reflect their spotless record, of having no accidents last year among their 12 owner/operators and 25 of their own drivers.

In addition to their clean record, Gomes believes his own participation and attendance at seminars for OSHA and the CHP, along with keeping up to date on the new laws, is what helped earned AC Trucking their two awards this year.

Taking awards is not something new for AC Trucking. The company has a history of placing at the California Tracking Associations annual award ceremony. This is their eighth year of placing and fifth year of receiving first place, according to owner Al Nunes.

Last year the company took the Grand Award, the highest honor given by the CTA, for safety among their class.
















































Manteca Trucking Company
Founder Earns Honor

Hall of Fame

James Albert Nunes founded A.C. Trucking in 1971 with one truck
that he drove himself.

Today, A.C. Trucking employs over 40 people, operates 35 trucks
and over 150 trailers with revenues exceeding $3.5 million annually.

Nunes is among seven inductees for the Class of 2000 in the
Manteca Hall of Fame. He is being inducted for business.

Other inductees are John W. Harris, education; Willie
Weatherford, community service; Dorothy Indelicato, art; Chuck
Shaefer, government; Chris Carr, athletics; and Don Stewart, at-large.

The induction ceremonies and dinner for the Manteca Hall of
Fame took place on April 15, 2000, at the Manteca Senior Center.
A.C. Trucking started in 1971 hauling milk. In 1986, Nunes sold that
end of the business and concentrated on hauling freight. To Nunes,
trucking isn't a business - it's family, friendship and tradition. He is
also active in other business adventures: RJS Enterprises, Davis
Nunes Properties, and ABJ Properties.

In 1990, the California Trucking Association awarded A.C.
Trucking third place in fleet safety for trucking companies under 2
million miles. In subsequent safety competitions, the Manteca firm
earned first in 1994, first in 1995, second in 1997, and first in 1998.

Nunes received the J.C.I Senate Award from Jaycees in 1978. He
served on the Manteca planning commission from 1982 to 1990, and
was a member of the private industry council, San Joaquin County,
for three terms. He also serves on various trucking association

His community service includes; helping charter Manteca Little
League in 1985, president of the Manteca Cowboys youth football
organization in 1993, president of the Manteca Rotary from 1993 to
1994, president of the Manteca Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1976,
Regional Director and Vice President of the California Jaycees from
1977 to 1979, and a board member of the Manteca Rainbow girls from
1989 to 1991.

Dennis Wyatt/Manteca Bulletin