In January I wrote on the abundance of bare shelves in the United States and what might be causing that. During my interviews and research, I realized just how many problems there are in the nation’s shipping industry. At the root of it is government over-regulation, which is causing many people to leave the trucking profession because they can make a more steady income and be at home working even a simple fast food job. It seems that most any trucker I talked to had seen a reduction in wages and were having to work harder under trying conditions.
As a result, some truckers have decided to shut down their rigs on April 12 in protest and to raise awareness of the issues they are facing.
The upcoming truckers’ strike could have widespread effects.
A one-day strike is not going to cause disruption to a lot of people.
The concern is if the strike goes on longer. It would also be foolhardy to ignore the major issues our country’s shipping industry is experiencing. That is not going to go away without some serious work and people being able to meet each other halfway.
A strike on April 12 could turn into a bigger movement that means the next strike hits harder and causes supply issues that everyone might feel. Let’s look back on a previous shut down for a lesson on how out of hand things can get.
Here’s what happened during a trucker strike in 1973.
This is not the first time truckers have felt the need to protest.
The Independent Trucker Shutdown during the 1973 oil crisis was a large protest and should serve as a cautionary tale.
It occurred before my time, but plenty of you reading this may remember the skyrocketing oil prices of 1973. The price of oil led truckers to strike due to high fuel costs. This was a much larger and united shutdown than the one planned for April 12 has any hope of being.
On December 3, 1973, JW Edwards ran out of gas at 10:00 pm after struggling to make his run amid fuel rationing. This blocked Interstate 80. JW got on his CB radio and eventually, other truckers stopped to help him out. Within an hour the protest had grown to hundreds of semi-trucks. In just a few hours truckers across the country were blocking the nation’s roadways, essentially shutting them down and causing traffic jams 12 miles long.
The strike lasted three days but remember that this was in a day and age when 70% of the countries’ goods were hauled by independent truckers. Now there are more companies that own fleets and just hire drivers.
That they had the numbers to get the government to listen was a major difference than what is going on now. The protests were largely peaceful except in Ohio when some truckers decided not to comply. The Governor deployed the National Guard and used tear gas.
For a while, the peace would last. The dealbreaker came when it was clear that now that government officials had calmed everyone down, they were in no rush to fulfill any of the promises they made. The brief strike did not cause a big enough supply disruption.
Protests started again and this time they took a darker turn. On December 13th and 14th another shutdown occurred but this time a lot of truckers started to harass and even turn to sabotage when other truckers refused to shut down. Tires were slashed, vehicles were shot, and one driver was even stabbed!
This was not the end either. As the protests entered 1974 some independent truckers not only shut down, they blocked roads and even started throwing bricks off of overpasses.
A resolution came in February 1974 when truckers were granted the right to add 6% fuel surcharges to their bill and they were guaranteed that truck stops would be given fuel priority so that they did not have to compete for rationed fuel supplies.
While it is good that truckers gained a voice, it was not without damage. As a result of the shutdown and strikes, 100,000 truckers were laid off, several people died, and the public experienced supply disruptions.
A lot of people do not remember these events well because they happened 46 years ago. Even those that do remember the oil crisis of 1973 often just remember how it affected them personally. People will say they remember not being able to get gas and not much else. This was before the age of instant info and being able to follow a story in real time on your phone no matter where you are.
The Black Smoke Matters movement is leading the strike.
The April 12 shutdown is well known in the trucker community. Most of the credit for organizing the shutdown and spreading the word for trucker rights has been attributed to a group called Black Smoke Matters.
The members of Black Smoke Matters have been very kind in allowing me into their Facebook group and answering my questions.
However, there are some in the trucking world that have accused members of being dangerous and even warning that they have the potential to be terrorists when pushed. Statements like this are not really that helpful. It is very easy to say that someone that is angry is capable of doing something terrible. Accusatory statements such as these could be made about anyone reading this post. We are all capable of doing bad things.
My experience with Black Smoke Matters is that they are a mixed lot of people. There are husband and wife teams that drive trucks full time. There are industry veterans that have been on the road for decades. Some drivers are fairly new to the game and are questioning their future.
I have never once heard anyone discuss protesting in any violent way or act like that is the answer to the problems they are facing. There are some very angry people in the group and they can express themselves with a lot of gestures, name-calling, 4 letter words, etc, but that does not mean they are planning violent acts if they don’t get their way.
At the same time, if numbers of supporters grow and strikes happen after April 12, the potential for things to get heated may grow. The previous trucker shutdown in 1973 shows the potential is there. Hopefully, things won’t take a dark turn as they did in 1973.
I want truckers to have good working conditions, a decent wage, and respect. Truckers have to fight a lot of stereotypes and that can make it hard for their concerns be heard and taken seriously. My observations of the group tell me that the hostility and anger of some make it hard for issues to be discussed. Like so many movements, too many people are concentrating on their differences more than they should and what they have in common, less than they should.
There are also a lot of people that have worked very hard to raise awareness about trucker issues but I think a lot of people are not holding their breath waiting on changes to regulations and a return to decent pay.
Slow roll protests are gaining momentum.
I learned that there have been some small protests called “slow rolls” that are attracting some. A slow roll is when a group of trucks cruises together in solidarity at a given location.
These smaller events are leading up to a strike on April 12. Leaders of the movement want workers’ rights and an end to the electronic logs that are causing so many problems. Truckers are being urged to not haul anything on April 12.
The question is just how many truckers plan on staying off the road April 12 and what will happen that day may determine if strikes will last longer. While the strike is just planned for a single day, emotions will be high among a crowd that feels that their livelihood is being taken away.
Slow rolls may be more common after the strike on April 12 since they can be organized quickly throughout the country.
There are several concerns truck drivers want to see addressed.
Some people believe that self-driving trucks will pick up the slack, but they still have a lot of issues that need to be improved before they can be unleashed at a great volume on the nations’ highways. They are out there but not in numbers that really make a big difference at the moment.
Truckers have always had to keep their time sheets and records but now the government thinks they need to do it for them. The idea is that electronic logs prevent drivers from staying on the road too long and posing a safety hazard to everyone. The reality is that they are so restrictive that they make no allowances for if someone is setting for 5 hours waiting to be loaded. That is time that they cannot be on the road. This is especially harmful to the income of drivers that get paid by the mile.
Trucker pay has been slashed
There are a lot of different views when it comes to trucker pay. On one side you have drivers that say that due to electronic logs telling them how to do their job, shipping broker fees, warehouse loading times, etc, they are getting paid a lot less than they ever were or should be. On the other side are people saying that people driving a truck should not expect to make an income over 100K per year. Some feel that truckers were getting overpaid in the past and now think they deserve to always make that.
The issue of pay can get very complicated but one thing that is for sure is that pay has gone down a lot on average, with some drivers reporting over $1,600 per month in lost wages.
Lack of parking and a hot meal
While truckers are expected to pass a physical and maintain a minimal level of fitness for a CDL license, it has become hard for them to maintain health and fitness with the lack of healthy food options on the road. If they are lucky they can get a fast food meal but in the course of my research I found truckers that have so little food options for a hot meal on the road that they pretty much are living on gas station hot dogs, that is if they can find a gas station that will allow them to park or that has the space to offer in the first place.
Yes, there are other food options at gas stations but it really depends on the station. Many gas stations are nothing more than gas pumps with candy stores attached, and no one will stay healthy living off of that. Those that live in food deserts often experience a similar lack of access to healthy food and you can see it in the general population. Type 2 diabetes used to not be so common, especially among younger people in the USA.
If a trucker gets some medical conditions, they can have their license revoked and lose their way of making a living.
Amenities and parking are hard to find
Some trucks have more amenities than others but that often comes out of the pocketbook of the driver and not the company. It is a bit much to expect a driver to have enough groceries for days at a time in their truck and to not have a hot meal. Grocery stores often have no truck parking Would you want to just live on cold cuts and whatever you could throw together? When there is nowhere to stop to fix a sandwich or cold meal, it is not even really an option. A trucker getting a ticket means trouble at the home office or money out of their already stressed pay.
With real estate near the highway at a premium and businesses facing thin margins, it can be hard to convince someone that the extra space is best spent on parking rather than selling the space for another business or that they should spend money on a much larger lot for their business so that truckers are accommodated.
It is a real problem that our shipping system is set up on a trucking system but our highways and the supporting network are not on the side of those actually hauling the load.
There is no doubt that it would be expensive to make more stops for trucks. This is an expense that a lot of private businesses cannot handle, especially when they cannot be sure how fast they will earn anything back. While truckers can insist they would utilize a business if it considered them, the current economy is enough to make some small businesses suspicious. Sometimes there is also no way they could accommodate if they wanted to simply due to lack of space.
There are other challenges associated with the trucking industry.
I have heard that there is a trucker shortage and I have also heard from truckers that this is a myth that is perpetuated a variety of ways. For example, some trucking companies that do not provide adequate pay and benefits say there is a shortage when really no one wants to work for the pay and conditions they provide. I can see how this could be part of the equation but it is hard for me to completely discredit the idea of a shortage simply because there are a lot of qualifications required to be a trucker that a lot of people cannot meet.
The pool of qualified people is much smaller than it once was due to the opioid epidemic and the general poor mental and physical health of much of the population. A trucker may be hauling a load worth $1 million and his truck may be worth 200K as well. You are not allowed to drive a semi if you have some things on your record.
Despite popular stereotypes and snobbery, they don’t just turn anyone loose with that kind of value on the highway. Truckers have a lot of criteria they have to meet to be deemed worthy.
Truckers are not united on a lot of issues. Opinions vary but the one thing that is clear is that if we are going to continue to have people behind the wheel, some things are going to have to change.
I read an account of a strike supporter getting a lot of grief from another trucker for putting ribbons on his truck that showed he supported the April 12 strike. The fellow was asked if he really thought they were going to accomplish anything and called the strike supporter various curse words before flipping him off and hitting the road.
This is a common occurrence among workers in the industry. Those who do not support a strike may feel that things are wrong but also that striking is just going to bring a lot of negative attention to the profession or make it harder on them in some way, such as angering those in charge of the trucking industry.
A recent article in Business Insider interviewed some truckers on both sides of the issue. Some people that drove trucks had the opinion that truckers that were going to strike were only thinking of themselves and that strikes would just affect those that have no say in how truckers are treated or paid.
There are things the general public needs to consider.
While all truckers clearly have concerns about the current state and future of the industry, there is enough division to make it quite difficult for those with power to take notice. I watched a video where truckers expressed frustration because a high-ranking government official told them that they could not take up an issue that only had the support of 7% of the reported workforce.
I am not saying that 7% number is accurate, but the actual number of supporters is low enough that it is hard to deny that with the current state of the affairs in the country today, the issue of trucker rights is not a priority for the government.
More numbers are needed for a major difference to be made.
The April 12 shutdown could have serious consequences.
The effects of the April 12 shutdown could be increased support and more widespread protests. Supply disruptions could happen during an extended situation. My hope is that solutions to the issues truckers are facing will be found and that violence, supply disruptions, and layoffs are not the end result.
What do you think?
Do you think the April 12 shutdown will help truckers get some of the changes they want? Do you think the strike will end up lasting longer, or that additional strikes will follow?
About the Author
Samantha Biggers lives on a mountain in North Carolina with her husband in a house they built by hand. When not writing she is working in the vineyard, raising Shetland sheep and growing gourmet mushrooms. Her writing mostly appears on Backdoor Survival and Lew Rockwell. She can be reached at [email protected].