Independent’s Day

Forewarned is forearmed. On a number of occasions this website has taken up the cause of the independent driver mostly because no one else has felt the inclination to do so. Who’s responsible for congestion in and around the ports? The independent port truckers. Who’s to blame for air pollution in and around the ports? The independent truckers. Who bears the brunt of the legislative measures being filed to reduce this congestion and pollution? The same independent truckers. Whatever protests are uttered from time to time by isolated officials in the trucking industry carry little weight because it’s freely acknowledged that if you’re not carrying a union card you’re not carrying a big stick. No one in port communities pushes the longshoremen around, though. There would be severe repercussions.

But the independent port truckers? No threat, no sweat. But what if there was a “threat”? What if these unorganized truckers all decided, coincidentally, to take their annual two-week vacations at the exact same time, let’s say, the second and third weeks in July? Would their importance then be acknowledged? Would there be any way to deal with the resulting economic catastrophe? There wouldn’t be. After all, the independent drivers, being independent, broke no laws by going on their annual vacations. The only laws these drivers have to obey are the ones that impose $ 1,000 fines for driving on certain residential streets. Of course, there are some still-to-be-written laws about hauling containers during normal working hours on the West Coast, but that isn’t a gimme yet. So, no threat, no sweat.

Maybe, and maybe not. This past Friday, April 29th, more than 600 tractor- trailers blocked traffic as they slowly traveled bumper-to-bumper, “coincidentally”, along highways in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland in a protest against soaring fuel costs. The truckers said they couldn’t afford the higher prices for diesel and took the action because “nobody seemed to be listening to them”. It was not their intention, they said, to hold up morning commuters with their convoy, they just wanted to get the attention of the federal and provincial governments. They wanted a reduction in fuel taxes because as many as a third of them will be forced into bankruptcy if relief is not forthcoming. The truckers also complained about low cartage rates and slow service at truck gates and checkpoints. [Most unusual!] Members of the Vancouver Container Truck Association who haul goods for the area’s four container ports only get paid for what they move, they said, and sometimes they’re forced to wait in line for containers for as long as five hours. [Now that’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?]

Organized or not, truckers already know of the importance of their niche. If they, representing a critical link in the nation’s supply chain, are pushed far enough, they will certainly push back. The absence of this link for a month, or even a week, would cause financial disaster throughout the entire country. The global economy, in fact, would be sorely affected. Repercussions? The crash of ‘29 would seem mild in comparison.

Old adages were coined because they had wide application. We began this commentary with one … “Forewarned is forearmed”. Here’s another … “Don’t lock the barn after the horse has been stolen”. And finally … “He who hesitates is lost”. U.S. port officials are flirting with disaster.