I like many of the Bloggers at TN I often get well written though provoking letters from our readers I received this from an articulate follower from Georgia on his take on what is going on with driver situation south of the border, you be the judge of the similarities. After I read his observations I contacted him and asked him if I could share his thoughts with you. So here you go from Marietta Georgia some food for thought folks!
The truck industry is on track to achieve the dubious distinction of having the highest paying “job that Americans won’t do”. Recent legislative attempts to curtail illegal immigration in Georgia had farmers complaining that crops will rot in the fields without enough workers to harvest them because it’s a “job that Americans won’t do”. The same observation can be made about meat processing. Though I wouldn’t recommend it, if you visit a meat processing plant as I have, it can be a lonely experience if you’re not bilingual. As the American Catholic church has recruited priests from overseas, the trucking industry has made entreaties for drivers outside this country. I encounter more and more immigrants driving trucks as my travels take me throughout the Southeast. How can this be, especially during these economic times? Don’t Americans want and need jobs that pay a living wage?
Nearly every issue of Transport Topics (TT) has an article about driver shortage and driver ‘churning’. It’s generally acknowledged that as the economy improves, the driver shortage will be exacerbated, and it’s even been warned that a driver shortage could impede the nation’s economic recovery.
As a former motor carrier Director of Safety & Training, it is my opinion that the ‘driver fatigue’ issue has been beaten to death, but it continues to divert attention from another pressing safety issue, which is the impact on safety of the chronic shortage of truck drivers and driver ‘churning’. With 100%+ annual turn-over in a safety critical occupation, with driver ‘churning’ constantly thrusting drivers into unfamiliar situations, and too much desperation driven qualifications based hiring regardless of desirability, safety is compromised.
This is nuts. As a reader of TT, you’re probably sufficiently familiar with the truck industry to know that working conditions for Truck Load (TL) drivers are abysmal, and that what’s expected of them in order to do their jobs is beyond the pale, but what’s being done about it?
It’s been nearly seventy-five years since the Motor Carrier Exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) made “interstate commercial drivers” second class citizens, denying them the right to hourly and over-time pay. During that time, it has become abundantly clear that mileage pay is toxic. It has contaminated the truck industry by being directly or indirectly responsible for several of the most serious chronic problems the industry has, including, but not limited to: driver shortage, driver ‘churning’, poor public image, driver fatigue, delay at shippers and receivers, and a host of state and federal regulations that hog tie the industry and thin its profit margin. Anyone who argues that TL must have mileage pay sounds like the addict who says he must have the drug that’s poisoning him.
Consider the advances since the FLSA was enacted in 1938: the interstate highway system, computerized information management for people and machines, global positioning satellites, electronic on-board recorders, instantaneous communication by a variety of means, the internet, and transportation logistics taught as a degree program in our colleges and universities. What else, short of the Second Coming, needs to happen in order to make hourly and over-time pay for “interstate commercial drivers” feasible?
Is the failure of TL to make the transition from mileage pay to hourly pay due to greed, fear of change, or a symptom of the admitted difficulty that the truck industry has in getting college students to make the industry a career choice? The driving force behind the evolution of an industry is need, but it also requires the ability to make it happen. Has it ever occurred to anyone that these smart and perceptive college students sense that there is a dark side to trucking, as in the second class citizen status of its blue collar work force, and that may be what is keeping them away? With eyes closed, one can still see the irony of ATA members whooping it up at gala conventions in places like Las Vegas, while tired drivers concluding a fourteen hour day can’t get into a urine soaked truck stop, and are faced with taking their ten hour break elsewhere without security, or access to a toilet, a shower, and a hot meal.
There will be those who will say that the issue of hourly and over-time pay for “interstate commercial drivers” is a moot point without the repeal of the Motor Carrier Exemption to the FLSA, which would require an act of Congress – certainly a high hurdle. The American Trucking Association (ATA) recently spent twenty three million dollars renovating its lobbyists offices in Washington DC, and I submit that the ATA ever so discreetly has at least as much influence on Capitol Hill as the National Rifle Association – what is lacking is the will to reform.
Something on the horizon, which may help force the issue, is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration study entitled “The Impact of Driver Compensation on CMV Safety” which will be issued this year. In the meantime, ponder the morality of perpetuating the second-class citizen status of “interstate commercial drivers” in the 21st century, and maybe we’ll agree that it’s gone on long enough.
Thirty-seven years in the motor carrier industry, evenly divided between motor coach and trucking.
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