By Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa
Published in the Detroit News, Dec. 1, 2021
This holiday season, there are many things for which we should be grateful. But the state of the U.S. supply chain is not one of them.
The nation’s desire to return to normal and celebrate with family and friends after 20 months off from such gatherings due to the pandemic is stressing the system and raising concerns Americans won’t be able to buy the groceries and gifts they want. These shortages, in turn, are causing prices to rise and costing consumers more.
There is understandable frustration out there about where things stand. Policymakers, moved by the public’s anger, are looking for solutions to the problem. Many have settled on a lack of truckers as the answer, but they are failing to see the forest through the trees. And that message is one the trucking industry is likely to continue to push in order to get what it wants – cheaper labor.
First, let me just clear up this fallacy – there is no shortage of experienced truckers. However, there is a problem with these drivers getting fair pay and treatment from their employers. The shipment of goods nationwide will continue to be hindered until government addresses such things as the misclassification of drivers.
Port truck drivers in particular are the target of such treatment. The industry is notorious for unlawfully forcing drivers to cover truck costs and to work long hours without meal and rest breaks and other basic employee protections. Additionally, by misclassifying drivers and paying them by the load, trucking companies offload the costs of long wait times and traffic congestion onto drivers’ backs, eliminating any incentive for trucking companies or cargo owners to fix this failing system.
Truckers are being taken for granted by big business even after all the work they did to keep America running during the most difficult days of COVID-19. They were seen as heroes and repeatedly praised by lawmakers for jeopardizing their own health and that of their families while delivering food and necessities to Americans. Drivers were on the frontlines when the country needed them most, but their sacrifice has been quickly forgotten.
That’s why the industry turnover rate is north of 90 percent. In essence, drivers are being denigrated for not wanting to work countless hours for low pay and under unsafe conditions that would result in them jeopardizing roadway safety.
But instead of fixing the real problem, the American Trucking Association and others are urging Congress to opening up the industry to inexperienced teenage drivers, which will allow companies to take advantage of them while also making traveling more unsafe. As it stands, truck driving is one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. Does it make sense to make things worse?
There are also issues when it comes to freight train service. The business model of precision scheduled railroading operates on a premise of running very long trains in order to cut jobs to maximize short-term profit.
This comes at the expense of quality of service for rail customers; increased risk for rail workers and the public; and congestion on the rails. The practice reduces service quality due to lower service frequency to shippers; increases risk due to longer trains taxing braking equipment; and increases rail congestion because longer trains create bottlenecks due to their excessive lengths. It is not a solution.
This nation needs more jobs that provide fair pay and benefits and can support working families. Trucking and rail companies need to be held accountable. It is they who are hampering the supply chain, not the hardworking Americans working for them.