Money talks; and the silence is deafening

At the start of December a new study of 34 countries showed that income inequality is at a record high among industrialized nations and that the gap between Canada’s rich and poor, although not as bad as in the US, is above the 34-country average.
The OECD research shows that the average income of the top 10% of Canadians in 2008 was $103,500 – 10 times that of the bottom 10%, who had an average income of $10,260. Back in the early 1990s the top 10% made only 8 times more what the bottom 10% made. The richest 1% of Canadians meanwhile, saw their total share of income rise to 13.3% from 8.1% in 1980. At the same time, the top federal marginal income rates dropped from 43% in 1981 to 29% in 2010 so the richest Canadians got to keep considerably more of their earnings.
Of the 34 countries compared, the US has the fourth worst record and Canada the 12th worst but a September study by the Conference Board of Canada reported that income inequality has been rising faster in Canada than in the US since the mid 1990s.
If you are a professional driver, of course, these numbers are just proof of what your eyes and pocketbook have been showing you for years. It’s a sad commentary on the plight of the US motor carrier industry, for example, that drivers make no more today in real terms (taking inflation into account) than they did in 1990. While I don’t have comparable figures for Canada to share with you, Statistics Canada records show that average weekly earnings (all employees, including overtime) in the Canadian for-hire trucking industry in 2001 was $687. By 2010, despite some of greatest growth years the Canadian economy has ever experienced, weekly earnings had climbed to $851.
The numbers I’ve mentioned are not the result of the recent recession; although weekly earnings in Canadian trucking did hit their peak in 2008 they averaged just $859. Wages in trucking have remained depressed through both good times and bad. It’s a mirror into what has been happening in our country overall as income inequality has increased during both recessionary and boom periods and despite employment growth during the boom periods.
Growing income disparity is a concern (among both protesters in the Occupy movement and prominent figures such as Warren Buffett) because a growing wage gap actually hurts everyone. Countries with greater income inequality tend to see shorter, less sustained periods of economic growth, according to a paper published by the International Monetary Fund last fall.
For trucking, the consequences are even more immediate. We need to ask ourselves why it is that despite high unemployment rates across North America, we still face a driver shortage? And then shippers, carriers and government must come together to figure out how to make the driving profession an attractive one once again because trucks don’t drive themselves and an advanced trading nation such as Canada can’t survive without trucking.

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With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics.

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  • Lou, it seems that you are not reading the comments on your blogs!?? There is no shortage of drivers! Most GOOD truck drivers are fed up with all the policy/procedure, ridiculous rules, etc. and the shortage of pay to put up with all of it! They are still good truck drivers but they refuse to be treated like slaves, so they have found other jobs where they are appreciated by their employers and paid accordingly! IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW HIGH THE UNEMPLOYMENT RATES GET, THE GOOD TRUCK DRIVERS HAVE MOSTLY MOVED TO “GREENER PASTURES” AND ARE NOT COMING BACK! Only narrow-minded business managers think that high unemployment numbers are going to put drivers behind the wheel!!! Sure-it might put ‘bodies’ in the seats, but that is one of the biggest problems that is driving the GOOD truck drivers away!! There is no pride among the ‘new’ breed of drivers and the ‘old hands’ don’t even want to share the truckstop parking lot with them, let alone be meeting them on the highways!! The ‘new breed’ has taken away the ‘hero’ status that most people once thought of truck drivers to be and replaced it with ‘ZERO’! I am not really placing all the blame on these ‘drivers’ but also on the inept people in charge of hiring them!

  • How do you compare apples to oranges. There are many obvious similarities, but just as many differences. This is effectively what you are trying to do when comparing earnings from 1980 to 1990 to 2001 & 2012? Focusing solely on earnings ignores the changes in working conditions and working hours that drivers now face, versus those before the introduction of hours of service regulations in Canada and the myriad changes that have occurred since then. Quality of life has improved (More rest time and fewer hours worked …). Unfortunately quality of life and maybe more importantly, perceived quality of life has not kept pace with most competing jobs. And you have to admit, you are competing with every other form of employment!
    Many carriers are still unable to understand that an employee’s life may not revolve around their employment any more (Some never did or ever will!)! Their employment is more a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Furthermore, most people undergo a change in what they want from their employment as their career (or age) advances. Many drivers have satisfied their need to be a “professional truck driver” early in their careers and now want to “have a job”, which has more predictable work hours and more flexibility. I always said that the industry has an all or nothing attitude. If the employee doesn’t do everything I want, including working 60 plus hours per week, I don’t want them. Start at 05:00 today, at 01:00 tomorrow and 13:00 the next. Got something important going on in your life? Too bad! You should have gotten a day job! “You can only work ten hours per day!”, “Sorry I don’t want you!” “You can’t work Thursday afternoon’s, because you need to take someone for treatment?”, “Sorry I don’t want you!” This may sound bitter, but almost every truck driver will tell you that it rings true! How can you really expect people to appreciate you, when this is what you tell them? Maybe not when you first hire them, but certainly once they are on the front lines!
    I believe that competition has been one of the driving forces behind the industry’s insatiable need for good professional drivers (and lack of margins …). When I was much younger, the “big boys” had hub and spoke networks, providing for highway drivers, city drivers and the long haul boys. When that model crashed due to increased competition, high property taxes and excessive union demands, it was replaced with a “pure competition model”, based upon safety ratings. Job variety almost completely ended. The older city guy was now expected to do the same thing that the 20 something newbie was doing, despite the limitations that age and wants may impose. Dump the infrastructure, dump the terminals and put bunks on everything. It may have worked in the short term as a new business model, but it ignored the benefits, flexibility and predictability that the entire driver work force previously enjoyed. Gone were the regular start and finish times, replaced by a work day driven almost solely by available hours of service. Also gone was the ability for a new driver to ease into the industry and maybe more importantly, a company’s ability to ease a new driver into the industry. Long hauls and Super B’s, right out of the gate!
    Quite simply this is not an easy fix! Truthfully, it may never get fixed. However, I hope that there are a sufficient number of responsible, professional carriers, that have the capacity to think outside of the box and look at some of the other employment models that exist outside of trucking. Throwing more money at the (potential) driver may help, but it is only one of the variables that motivates a work force. Start investing more time, energy and money into these other motivating areas. Start by respecting and appreciating your employees. Maybe even listen to them! They are your greatest resource. Stop shooting yourself in the foot and look at ways to eliminate your own barriers to entry! It’s like advertising. You have to appeal to your target market. The problem is, your target market has changed and you are still trying to sell the same old product to a new and different market AND THEY AREN’T BUYING! What’s wrong with this business model?
    Jamie Lahey
    Former Professional Driver
    Former Director of Safety
    Present Small Business Owner

  • I’ve been a truck driver for over 25 years. All I know is I can’t hang on much longer and something has to change. In the past 15 years the cost of living has tripled , my income has barely rose 15% . Politicians brag about creating jobs. But how many of these jobs are truely gainful?
    When we read that top ceo’s are making salary increases 189 times that of the average worker, can you really tell me there isn’t a solution?

  • To the commentary posted by Ward McKay.
    In 25 years your income has gone up 15% as a driver.
    Then the trucking companies claim there is a “truck driver shortage”.
    Then these same companies wonder why good quality applicants are not considering a career in trucking these days?
    Could anything be more obvious!

  • It seems obvious to me. What I don’t understand is,how the economy is suposed to get moving, if the government allows all the wealth to stagnate in just a few gigantic piles. We need to close the gap between wages and inflation. If the working class have money they will spend it. The government will collect taxs on it and we would all be better off.

  • The reality is,if the carrier paid another $200.00 a day on average,your toaster would cost another 0.75$. A car might cost an extra $100.00 trucking isn’t the major cost on product. Not as much as producers and manufaturing want every one to believe.

  • I don’t normally respond to blogs, but this I have to. I read them all and it seems like a lot of other people do too. I agree with the common sentiment that the industry does not appreciate the good drivers they have. (had?) Wages and working conditions have not kept up in the last 40+ years that I have been doing this. I don’t have “the” answer, but if the industry does not find it, it is going to keep getting worse. If you are looking for someone to blame, I believe there is more than enough to go around.

  • I think its important to note. Wage inequality is a working class problem in general. Not just a trucking issue.
    Since 1997 cost of living has increased 140% .on average working class wages have only increased 20%.
    Is it any wonder that our standard of living is slipping?

  • Everyone knows what is wrong with the trucking industry. After 33 years driving, most as an owner/operator, I have watched this business deteriorate to the point of no return. Longer periods away from home. Operating costs through the roof and nothing to show for it when you get your pay cheque. Governments becoming involved and not acknowledging the drivers input, all in the name of road safety. Lack of proper training for new drivers and a total lack of disrespect toward trucks from the general public. The drivers need to take this business back. We are the ones in control. If all drivers shut down even for 72 hours the whole economy would come to a stand still. Stores would be empty, factories would be unable to function and maybe then the general public and government officials would realize just how valuable the transport driver really is. They say there is a shortage of experienced drivers, yet they keep pushing the old drivers out of business. Wages have remained the same for the last 20 years, yet costs have tripled. Come on guys…lets work smarter not harder!

  • In response to gary davis. It would make shippers take notice if we could all orginize a total transport shutdown for 72 hours once a month. But that’s never going to happen. We need to take it up directly with our carriers and employers as often and loud as we can. Hit them with study facts ,not emotions. Look up all the info and post it at your carriers office. Talk about it with your boss and just don’t let them ignore you.

  • Ward there are companies that that pay well.But they are few
    and far between. So If I worked for one I would be hard pressed
    to go on strike if I worked there.
    There in lies the problem.
    Or the answer.
    Pay fair then there is no problem

  • Hey… I have an idea! If there is such a shortage of drivers, maybe drivers should advertise themselves and if a company really wants to get good drivers behind the wheel, they could send their information to the driver and see if the driver is willing to be hired by the company! I will start; 46 YEAR OLD TRUCK DRIVER with 28 years and over 3 million miles experience hauling several commodities on several different trailers and combinations of equipment. No demerits. Have hauled livestock, grain, fertilizer, pipe, blood meal and bone meal, borax, produce, fresh and frozen meat, lumber, steel, office furniture, all types and sizes of construction equipment, oilfield compression equipment, turbines, jet engines, all kinds of mining equipment, disabled trucks and farm equipment, conveyor belting, gravel crushers and a few other odds and ends like country music superstars equipment and several tow-away trailers with mounted equipment. Have been most places between Whitehorse, Yk and San Diego, Ca. Halifax, N.S. to Miami, Fl. Thompson, Mb to Laredo, Tx. and most places between. Am as comfortable pulling a multi-axle lowbed as a flatdeck. Love the prairies and love the mountains just as much. I don’t care where I have to go, each place is as interesting as the others. Will only drive a longnose Kenworth or Peterbilt with a mechanical Cat engine (pre-1994). Any transmission will do, but prefer 6 speed main and 4 speed auxiliary. Truck should have 6″ straight pipes and an AM/FM radio, a decent CB and a VHF radio and a 3 watt hard-mounted cell phone. A 36″ sleeper or bigger. Air conditioning is a must. Truck must NEVER have been smoked in! Must have a straight front bumper and no dents in the fuel tanks or sleeper corners. I will pay for any dents that I put in truck. Must also have manual slack adjusters and NO ABS! You are welcome to equip it with a tachograph or other tattletale. I will grease the truck and adjust the brakes and wash the truck every Saturday and change my own tires, wheel seals, brake shoes and drums as required. Every 250 engine hours, I will change the engine oil and filter. You will pay me $30.00 per hour for anything that I do related to the truck or the work that the truck is doing. Wages will be paid every Friday, in full-no exceptions! I will take time off at my home 3-4 days out of each 14 day period. Send a photo of the truck and proof that it is equipped to my satisfaction. 780 842 0663

  • @ meslippery. I look every day. I make the highest wage offered. When you put it up against the cost of living ,I make half as much now as I did in 1997. All I’m saying is we have to be vocal about the issue.
    The money doesn’t vaporize at the end. If we’re paying tripple for every thing they can pay bigger wages to the guys doing the work. BE VOCAL! DON’T BE IGNORED.

  • Sask trucking assn . Kicked me off there twitter and FB sites. You would think they would be interested in helping with this issue. HMmmmm . I guess they would rather aid the 0.001%

  • Hey, Ward McKay- don’t worry about meslippery, he is very vocal, at least on this blog site! However, some of the blog writers and probably some trucking company managers wish they could muzzle him! It’s too bad because he is usually hitting the nail right on the head! Yeah they try to ignore him, but he’ll have none of it!

  • Every one I talk to responds the same way here.”That’s just the way it is.”
    Seems that every one is defeated and giving up. The working class has historically always been where governments have drawn from to balance deficit through austerity actions. But we can’t carry that load this time.

  • My boss hasn’t made a profit yet. The company we haul for however reported a 127% profit. Its not the carriers and owner operators. Its shippers.