Danny Tyree: Don’t take truck drivers for granted
Are you ready for long waits, bare store shelves and higher prices?
The larger trucking firms expect to lose 91 percent of their drivers each year. That’s more turnovers than Pepperidge Farm!
Long before the current crisis, I was muttering that half the “help wanted” ads you see in the classifieds are for truckers. Now I fear the search is spilling over into other parts of the newspaper, such as the “Hints From Heloise” column. (“How to get wine stains out of a plush carpet? Ordinarily, I would suggest vinegar — but have you considered getting your Commercial Driver’s License?”)
Part of the problem is that not everyone is cut out to be a trucker. (“Wow! You mean there’s such a thing as literally shifting gears? And they told me the job would involve ‘Diesel.’ Where is old Vin? My wife would kill for his autograph!”)
Other problems cited by industry critics include inadequate training, long periods away from home (I always get choked up hearing Kathy Mattea’s upbeat-yet-poignant “18 Wheels And A Dozen Roses”) and low pay.
I’d rather not take sides in the classic management-labor fight involving (a) truckers who say they can’t make a living when inflation-adjusted pay is down 10 percent over the past decade and (b) owners who say they struggle with paper-thin profit margins.
I have been unable to verify reports of “How’s my driving?” signs on tractor-trailer rigs clashing with company owners’ “How’s my Swiss bank accounting?” signs.
The current economic crunch creates a public safety hazard in terms of driver fatigue. The federal government hopes to have all rigs equipped with electronic logs in a few years, but right now the playing field is not level. Either drivers voluntarily job-hop to companies with paper logs that can be fudged (so they can rack up more miles), or owners force drivers to falsify records.
I tried cornering one trucker to ask him just how long he had been on the road without a break, but he was too busy pulling Apache arrows out of his air brakes to participate. Another driver did chortle that he had managed to juggle some numbers and make a week’s 100 hours on the road look like a coffee break. (“But if you want the Social Security trust fund to look good, get someone else.”)
There are other hazards. Declares one civil rights leader, “If the stores are devoid of merchandise to loot...er, confiscate...it’s an egregious suppression of our right to express our grievances over Justin Bieber being portrayed as white more than 90 percent of the time...”
Solutions I’ve heard so far are rather unsatisfying: “Impeach somebody,” “Make the One Percent do the driving,” “Frack more,” “Frack less,” “Dump ice buckets on the interstate,” “Put that stupid column away and let’s go shoe shopping,” etc.
Long after the glory days of Smokey and the Bandit, “Convoy,” Red Sovine, “B.J. and the Bear” and CB radio, we tend to take truckers for granted. We shouldn’t. They are human beings and part of the lifeblood of the economy.
For the good of business, truckers and consumers, let’s all press for an equitable solution.
Have you got your ears on, good buddy?
Danny Tyree welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org.