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MSNBC Laments Owner-Operators' Plight

June 13, 2000

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A report last weekend on MSNBC's web site focused on what it called a "grim future" for truck owner-operators.

The report, by MSNBC Contributor Bonar Menninger, opened by introducing the reader to Dave Drennen, a 51-year-old owner of a 1983 Autocar interviewed at a truckstop in Oak Grove, Mo. "After nearly 30 years as an independent owner-operator, Drennan has serious doubts" if he can stay in business, writes Menninger.
The report says that many of the country's owner-operators "are being forced into the breakdown lane by a bitter convergence of economic and regulatory factors." Those include the new hours of service proposal, low rates, cutthroat competition and higher costs, especially fuel.
Mike Belzer, an economist at the University of Michigan and author of the controversial book "Sweatshops on Wheels," told MSNBC that many independent long-haul drivers now earn less than half of pre-deregulation wages.
"The fundamental problem is that independents are price-takers in a highly competitive industry," Belzer told MSNBC. "They don't have the market power to set prices, because there is always someone at the margin that is willing to take a load for a little bit less."
Messinger also interviewed Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers association, who told him, "You can do everything right, but that's still no assurance you won't end up in the poor house."
In the section on the controversial hours-of-service proposal, Menninger interviewed safety advocates such as Parents Against Tired Truckers and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. Jerry Donaldson with Advocates told him, "As far as I'm concerned, independents are the last reservoir of early 20th century exploited labor. The analogy I use is they're rolling coal miners."
You can read the entire story at MSNBC's web site.

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