Help Wanted

Robert Malone’s latest article in Forbes is entitled “Help Wanted: Truck Drivers”. You’d expect that a great deal of attention would be paid to this article, but time will tell. The article begins:

“NEW YORK – For the want of a truck driver, a great deal can be lost.

“Trucks are the core logistics vehicles that bring almost everything to retail establishments across the nation. No truck means no yogurt, no gas and no Ralph Lauren polo shirt.

“Of the 3.4 million truck drivers on the U.S. roads in 2002, about 1.3 million were heavy-and-tractor trailer drivers. The American Trucking Association (ATA) estimates that employment will increase at a minimum rate of 1.8% through 2012, when there will need to be 2.1 million heavy haulers.

“These estimates offer the country and its transportation industry a not-so-delightful paradox, as there is currently a shortage of 20,000 long-haul drivers – and the number is growing. To this statistic must be added the 219,000 truck drivers who are 55 and over that will need to be replaced in the next decade. When the increased need for drivers is factored along with the attrition, there is a mammoth need to quickly find more truckers.

“Indeed, if the impact of more-than- $ 70 per barrel is also factored in, there may well be grim trucking times ahead. ‘The cost of fuel for long-haul truckers has increased 51 cents per gallon within the last year,’ says Mike Russell, spokesman for the ATA. ‘This has exacerbated the shortage-of-drivers problem.’ Since many truckers are independent owner-drivers, the fuel shortage hits them directly in their wallets …”

According to Brian Griley, President of Southern Counties Express in Carson, CA, harbor truck drivers work a 55-hour week but have an average take-home pay of $ 11.34 an hour. “Would you buy and drive a truck for $ 11.34 an hour?” he asked the attendees at a conference sponsored by the Port of Long Beach.

Griley also said that there are more than 10,000 owner-drivers in the LA/Long Beach port complex, but the average fleet is only 25 trucks and these small companies have little leverage in negotiations with shippers and carriers. A rate increase of 40 % would raise annual wages to about $ 46,000, he surmised, but Clark Brown, President of Bridge Terminal Transport, reminds us that, when rising insurance and fuel costs are considered, harbor drivers have had no real rate pay raises for the past 10 to 12 years.

With the goal of building a campaign for careers in truck driving, the uneasy ATA has developed an extensive advertising campaign and has even sought assistance from the U.S. Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Knowing something about Congress and the VA, however, we find ourselves agreeing with Robert Malone’s final comment: “Those ads better work.”

To continue with Mr. Malone’s article in Forbes:

“Matt Smith, chief executive at SmithGifford, of Falls Church, Va., has developed the ads for this ATA campaign, based on the association’s extensive demographic research. The campaign is designed to reach new people in order to meet the demand for drivers during this extended shortage period. Some of the groups being targeted are Hispanics who speak English, people over 50 who may be looking for a second career and ex-military personnel (not military career types).

“‘We interviewed and rode extensively with truckers. What we found was that they did not want to be perceived as macho men,’ says Smith. ‘They were there essentially for the … romance of the road. We showed them the ads we had developed, and they chose two. One expresses that … my office has a better view than yours. The other was … assembly lines don’t give you stories to tell.’

“The trucking industry’s perception of the shortage has been influenced by the shift of drivers from one carrier to another. This is referred to within the industry as churning, and the annual turnover rate last year was pegged at 121%. The filling of the shortage will not be made up from within the trucking industry. According to Bill Graves, the ATA’s chief executive, ‘The market is the tightest (it has been) in 20 years.’

“When these facts and opinions are placed within the context of what is actually taking place, the pressure increases. In 2004, trucks hauled a total of 9.8 billion tons. That figure is estimated to rise to 13 billion tons by 2016 …”

Well, what if those ads don’t work? Then what? Will Congress then be forced to take remedial action? The issue is coming to a boil. George Raine recently reported in the SF Chronicle:

“Several hundred union members rallied Thursday at the Port of Oakland on behalf of independent truck drivers, describing them as among the nation’s most exploited workers.

“The demonstration by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and six other unions, along with similar events at the Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Houston and Miami, was part of a larger organizing effort called ‘Make Work Pay.’

“‘It means organizing, organizing and organizing,’ Chuck Mack, the Teamsters western regional vice president, told a cheering crowd.

“The truckers are independent contractors, not employees. Federal antitrust law prevents contractors from engaging in collective bargaining that could lead to union representation.

“Independent truckers are paid by the load. They don’t get health and welfare coverage, pensions, workers’ compensation, holidays, sick leave, vacations, unemployment insurance, employer-paid Social Security contributions or other benefits …”

“We have to change the system,” California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said. “These drivers are treated like indentured servants.” [Still think those ads will work?]