The July 18th editorial in the PACIFIC SHIPPER, said it all. In a single page, Stephanie Nall covered the cause of the most serious ailments afflicting the intermodal supply chain. “The weak link” is the way she headlined her editorial, and this paragraph is the way she ended it:
“The drivers may hold little power, but the supply chain cannot work without a healthy port trucker segment. These workers need to be paid more and deserve to be paid more. It’s time for the industry to figure out how that will be done.”
Stephanie penned those words sometime prior to the July 18th issue date of her magazine, remember, and that was well before the Vancouver trucker strike reached its disastrous stages, and long before the Miami drivers decided to launch their current protest. She’s obviously a little smarter than the rest of us. Being very diplomatic about it, she carefully pointed out some of the improvements made along the supply chain in recent months without demeaning any of them. “Shippers have tried to spread out shipments to avoid the peak season as much as possible”, she said. “Railroads added employees, purchased locomotives and laid track. Marine terminals added thousands of longshoremen to the rolls. Ocean carriers have reworked their schedules so that they put more boxes through less congested ports from Oakland to Vancouver, British Columbia.”
To her credit she didn’t label these actions as “stop-gap measures” or “band-aid treatments”, even though that’s exactly what they are. Instead Stephanie acknowledged that, “Those steps were all needed and have helped keep congestion at bay — or at least out of Southern California’s San Pedro Bay — but when the industry is operating so close to capacity limits, problems are bound to arise”. See? She knew what was coming. Back then she said, “But by far the biggest threat to smooth-flowing commerce is the port trucker portion of the transportation system. Port truckers are almost all independent owner-operators. These small businessmen are responsible for paying their own insurance premiums (which are rising) and for diesel (which continues its assent into the pricing stratosphere), all the while facing stricter government regulations on how long and in what sequence they can work each week on congested highways. The combination is resulting in higher costs and lower revenue. With that sort of an equation, profit is way down.
“Many port truckers can make more money flipping hamburgers”, she said. “As this fact sinks in, more and more rigs are being parked — either permanently or as part of a strike or labor demonstration.” Stephanie said all this sometime in mid-July, remember. She also reminded us that, “Because independent truckers cannot legally organize in the U.S., there has been a belief that their complaints can be ignored. Ocean carriers, shippers, terminal operators and railroads are already spending and investing more in many areas. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the next area of spending must be port drayage.” [Yes, it is increasingly clear, Stephanie … to some people.]
A wise and lovely lady once said, “Women wear makeup … and they look better. Men wear blinders … and they don’t look at all.” [Right, Stephanie?]