“Pay me now, or pay me later”

We remember some figures being revealed at a trucking industry conference a couple of years ago. Here’s the point that was being made. In order to end up with 10,000 drivers properly trained and willing to accept a trucker’s lifestyle, 120,000 folks had to be found who were willing to submit driver applications. In order to reach these 120,000 folks, however, 500,000 prospective drivers had to be identified and approached. And that was more than two years ago.

What kind of an effect do you suppose recent developments are having on that number of “prospective drivers”? And what kind of an effect do these developments have upon today’s frustrated drivers who are sitting on the fence?

How do you suppose they feel when they read statements such as the following?

• Truck cabs are considered “sweatshops on wheels”.
• “You’re a slave to the truck”.
• “When (terminal operators and port officials) hear the word ‘trucker’, they don’t think of a human being. They don’t care what all this pollution is doing to our health.”
• “These terminal operators think it’s their own little kingdom inside these fences.”
• “We are proposing that absolutely no taxpayer money be used to replace old trucks …”
• “This (white paper) proposes that the poorest people in the system are going to pay, while the people who own the goods don’t pay.”
• “The system makes those with the shallowest pockets responsible for absorbing most of the costs.”

None of this matters to the authorities, however. Even though they were told by Mr. Michael Belzer back in February of 2000 at a seminar sponsored by the Transportation Research Board, that low wages, long hours, unsafe working conditions and rising fuel costs were contributing to the severe driver shortage at our seaports, it didn’t faze them a bit.

“You have working conditions that I believe can be characterized as sweatshops,” he said. “If the problem is not resolved soon, you won’t have to worry about gridlock because there won’t be any trucks on the road … I cannot comprehend why people don’t respond to this as a national crisis.”

To these unresponsive and unconcerned authorities a national crisis would be when a key segment of their industry actually goes out on strike. Now to their way of thinking that would be a crisis because it’s their ox (read, pocketbook) that’s being gored. Meanwhile they’ll just bide their time while the other guy’s ox is bleeding.

Well, consider this. What if every one of the drivers of the16,000 trucks (bleeding oxen?) now servicing the ports of LA/Long Beach caught a lengthy case of “blue-flu”? The effect would be telling, to put it mildly. The cost to the industry and to the nation’s economy would be incalculable and the authorities would pay dearly, but they would have no one to blame but themselves.