It’s time to stop being a sweatshop on wheels

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David Bradley’s recent Truck News column in which he played the role of a Canadian truck driver has received much attention.

Well, I am here to tell you that my name is Dave too, and I AM a Canadian truck driver – an owner/operator, in fact.

There are many problems plaguing today’s trucking industry, but one of the most explosive is that of driver retention. Most carriers claim that retention is only part of the problem; that there is a genuine driver shortage. The Canadian Trucking Alliance maintains that Canada will need another 50,000 new truckers in the near future.

Let me (as a Canadian truck driver) enlighten the masses as to why many of my comrades want to get out of this industry as soon as possible. It comes down to compensation and harassment.

When I talk about compensation, it would be more precise to talk about the lack thereof. Granted, the average pay for both company drivers and O/Os has marginally increased, but it simply hasn’t kept pace with the cost of living.

In 1971, Eastern Transport, where my father had worked, was paying 14 cents per mile, plus an hourly wage for loading and unloading. If these wages were to keep pace with inflation, drivers would be making 58 cents per mile in 2000. But consider those carriers who now pay less than 30 cents per mile, and offer absolutely nothing for loading and unloading.

In my five years as an O/O, I can personally attest to a dropping revenue per mile and an ever-increasing cost per mile. From 1997 to 1999, my average revenue per mile rate has dropped 21 per cent, while my costs per mile over the same period have increased eight per cent.

Trucking is notorious for cutthroat competition, and I have always felt that the industry is its own worst enemy. Shippers, brokers and ultimately carriers are responsible for the current driver shortage. Rate cutting equals less pay, and that equals a driver shortage. Inevitably, if this industry wants the Canadian O/O to stay in this business, shippers, brokers and carriers are going to have to raise rates and pay us more. It’s time to stop being a sweatshop on wheels.

That brings us to the issue of harassment. In the last decade, trucks have become bigger, faster and more powerful, they carry more weight and they are driven more miles. Let’s not forget that there is more traffic on the road and it is generally agreed that the quality of drivers has gone downhill.

Despite all of these factors, the accident rate involving commercial vehicles has generally decreased. If this is indeed the case, and there are many studies to indicate that it is, then why is the level of enforcement (harassment) increasing?

Driving into a scalehouse today is much like sticking your hand into a beehive – you’re gonna get stung. Even if you are an excellent operator and are compliant, enforcement officers still seem anxious to sting you. But enforcement doesn’t equal compliance; it generates revenue. If the provinces were truly interested in safety, they would spend more time on improving the quality of drivers through education instead of incessantly writing citations.

The ball is squarely in laps of the carriers and their related associations, such as the Canadian Trucking Alliance and its provincial counterparts. If the carriers want to improve their lives, they are first going to have to improve the lives of drivers and O/Os. The carriers and associations are the ones with the money and lobbying power.

But there are also many more factors that are adding to grief behind the wheel. I refer to such things as photo radar; forced dispatch; the lack of available parking; pathetic roads that include traffic lights on U.S.-bound routes at Windsor, Ont.; a lack of home time; demands for free services such as lumping or tarping; and our general treatment as the scum of the Earth by everybody from dispatchers to four wheelers, to shippers and receivers.

Then there are the split speed limits; four-wheelers; ridiculous regulations; logbooks; excessive costs for everything from fuel to meals; and the low self-esteem and morale from participating in a thankless job.

Need I go on?

I conclude by quoting Jim Johnston, the president of the Owner/Operator Independent Drivers Association. Jim states, “Considering the obstacle course, professional truckers are able to safely maneuver every working day of their lives while under constant pressure from shippers, dispatchers, and other untold influences, we really should be showering them with praise instead of treating them as second-class citizens.” n

– Dave Holleman is an over-the-road trucker and monthly columnist in Truck News.

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Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.

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