Jim Park, Equipment Editor
Do you know what's lacking in trucking? Dignity. Simple dignity. If this sounds all soft and squishy, read on. I think I'll change your mind.
A chance meeting outside my hotel lobby one evening during the Mid-America Trucking Show last month provides a clue on how to avert a pending disaster.
Earlier in the day, I had moderated the Fleet Forum panel discussion on “Managing Your Fleet in the Real World” with HDT's 2013 Truck Fleet Innovators: Kevin Burch, president of Jet Express; Joe Cowan, president of Cowan Systems; Trent Dye, director of Paramount Freight Systems; and Robert E. Low, president of Prime Inc. These guys are no slouches in the fleet management world, but one reason for the shortage of qualified drivers was absent from the discussion at the forum.
The fellow I was talking with outside my hotel was a software engineer with a stake in trucking's success. He had attended the Fleet Forum and indicated he found the discussion enlightening. He told me he was surprised that none of the panelists had mentioned the very basic requirement for fulfillment in life: the need to be treated with respect and dignity.
He suggested that drivers are not treated with a great deal of respect overall, and he was quite sure that anyone coming from almost any other trade or profession would find the drivers’ world nearly intolerable in a very short time.
He mentioned specifically the insanely narrow delivery windows drivers face despite weather and traffic conditions, the constant hounding by DOT inspectors, and being told — in words and deeds — that their time is worth nothing unless they are running down the road under a full head of steam.
This man made it quite clear that he'd need to be nearly destitute before he'd consider driving as way of making a living. He said there's no dignity in driving a truck. And he's right.
To those of us steeped in the culture, irritants like not being paid for loading and unloading, vehicle inspections and the like are standard operating procedure. To someone outside trucking, that would be abhorrent.
Another example: To run 2,500 miles in a week but to be paid only 2,450 because that's how far the computer says it is between two points — despite factors like construction-related detours — is beyond disrespectful.
We accept it because it has always been that way, or worse. But outsiders — those we are looking to recruit to fill truck seats — expect to be paid for the work they do, even if (and perhaps especially if) it's outside the normal call of duty.
The way drivers are treated by law enforcement is another cause for concern.
On a whim, any police officer can pull a truck over and strip a driver of half a week's pay with just a couple of citations, warranted or not. What's a driver to do, travel a thousand miles and miss a week's work to fight a $500 ticket? The cops know the driver is not coming back to fight the ticket, so it's easy money.
That sort of treatment is dehumanizing, but we rarely hear industry leaders decrying that kind of behavior. Driving certainly isn't a glamorous job, but drivers don't need to be treated like criminals.
Actually, criminals have more rights than drivers in some respects. They are at least assumed innocent until proven guilty. That's certainly not the case with CSA. Drivers give up a lot in the name of safety.
It's clear that the crowds of people who are not becoming truck drivers are not prepared to sacrifice their dignity to earn just a living wage.