In a just world, there would be no need to legislate common decency. Simple acts of humanity would be a common reflex. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
This is apparently too much to ask. Look no further than businesses that deny washroom access to truck drivers, even as those same drivers deliver loads that ensure the businesses can operate in the first place.
The problem is not unique to these locked-down times of Covid-19. Washroom access, or the lack thereof, has long been a challenge to those in the trucking industry, just like the lack of available parking. The repurposed jugs that litter truck stops and road shoulders offer proof.
But the practice of actively locking out truck drivers has intensified under the guise of health, safety and security. All too many businesses are saying truck drivers can’t be welcomed into a workplace because … well, Covid.
Legislators in two North American jurisdictions are looking to right such wrongs, and they should serve as a model for other provinces and states.
Ontario’s governing Progressive Conservatives were the first, unveiling plans for a rule that would require businesses to provide the washroom access. Mike Sells, a Democrat in the Washington State Legislature, is now leading a similar charge in his jurisdiction.
“No matter what level of trucking you’re in in Washington State, whether you’re a UPS driver, whether you’re a general freight driver like me, LTL driver, port driver, flat-bedder, over the road, this is a problem at every level,” said 20-year driver Ryan Johnson, who raised the issue with his Washington representative.
In a public hearing before the legislature’s transportation committee on Jan. 17, he counted the limited number of washrooms available in regional port facilities alone. A porta potty here. Maybe a couple of stalls there.
“It’s a shame that we need to have this law passed. This is a nationwide problem especially in the ports,” he said. “This should cost taxpayers nothing. We’re asking to use existing bathrooms for 90% of it.”
The Washington proposal is already seeing support from several trucking organizations.
“The general public will never truly understand what it is like to not be able to use the restroom when nature calls out on the road, but this is a daily challenge for truck drivers across the country. When you are driving a tractor-trailer that is 70+ feet long, it can be especially difficult to find a place to park and use the restroom, and this includes locations that truck drivers deliver to and pick up from,” said a joint letter from the Washington Trucking Associations, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), and American Trucking Associations.
“The issues facing truck drivers during the pandemic were incredibly tough to hear about, and many of them came down to a lack of common decency,” Ontario Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney said in a recent speech to the Ontario Trucking Association.
Make no mistake about it. Such rules are more than empty platitudes, and they carry the threat of hefty fines. As they should.
The Ontario Ministry of Labour issues about 100,000 orders under its Occupational Health and Safety Act every year, Robert England of Miller Thomson LLP said, responding to my questions of whether it’s even possible to legislate such access.
“While you, and others, would be forgiven for thinking that such a prosecution is reserved for cases of serious contraventions that may have resulted in a critical injury or fatality, that is not frankly the case.”
That’s welcome news. It’s time to open the doors, and to show some common decency in every setting.
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