The trucker shortage isn’t due to COVID restrictions, it’s because they are underpaid, overworked and dehumanized.
The recent traffic-clogging protests in Canada, Washington, D.C., Europe and elsewhere by long- and short-haul truck drivers were about them being angry over having to comply with COVID-19 vaccine mandates — right?
Uh… no. That’s the line being put out by right-wing extremists trying to use the legitimate gripes of truckers for their own political gain, giving false reasons for the trucker shortage. As usual, the extremists are nuts — not the truckers.
My Uncle Emmitt was a coast to coast, high-balling trucker in the 1960s, and would attest that back then, trucking was an honest job with decent pay, union protections, benefits and normal hours. Then came the anti-government, deregulation craze of the 1980s, pushed by corporate profiteers and right-wing ideologues. Since then, cheap-rate trucking outfits have become predominant, unions have been cast aside, driver pay has crashed and working conditions have become punishing.
Pay today is so abysmal that most truckers on the road have to drive dangerously long shifts of well over 60 hours a week (with many topping 100 hours) to make a bare-bones living. It’s a grind, too — you can’t stand up for hours, you travel alone, dinner is a gas station burrito, bathroom breaks mean pulling out the plastic jug you carry along… and you won’t get home for days. Exhaustion is a constant companion and a real hazard, especially because you’re wrangling bulky machines known as “40 tons of death.”
Yet corporate, political and media elites — oblivious to all of the above — whine that America has a trucker shortage. They might ask themselves, why? After all, there are plenty of people who are licensed truck drivers, but — get this — nine out of 10 quit within a year of getting a job! That’s not because of a vaccine mandate, as right-wing political manipulators want us to believe. It’s because truckers are underpaid, overworked, endangered and even dehumanized by bosses who install surveillance cameras, sensors and other technology to record and report every twitch a driver makes.
Today’s explosive truck-convoy protests are not a right-wing expression — it’s a rebellion against the plutocratic system that the right wing has imposed on truckers… and on America.
“Keep On Truckin'” was an iconic underground cartoon of the hippie era, created in 1968 by comic master Robert Crumb. Featuring various big-footed men strutting jauntily through life, the image became widely popular as an expression of young people’s collective optimism. “You’re movin’ on down the line,” Crumb later explained, “It’s proletarian. It’s populist.”
But today the phrase has become ironic, for America’s truck drivers themselves are no longer moving on down the line of fairness, justice and opportunity. What had been a skilled, middle-class job in the 1960s is now largely a skilled poverty-wage job, thanks to the industry’s relentless push for deregulation, de-unionization and decoupling of drivers from middle-class possibilities. America’s trucking system has been turned into a corporate racket, with CEOs feeling entitled to arbitrarily abuse the workers who move the corporate products across town and country. Why entitled? To enable the abuse, their lawyers have fabricated a legal dodge letting them claim that their truck drivers are not (SET ITAL) their (END ITAL) employees, but “independent contractors.”
Thus — hocus pocus! — drivers don’t get decent wages, overtime pay, workers’ compensation, Social Security, health care, rest breaks, reimbursement for truck expenses (including gasoline, tires, repairs and insurance) … and as “contractors” they’re not allowed to unionize. This rank corporate rip-off has become the industry standard, practiced by multibillion-dollar shipping giants like XPO, FedEx, Penske and Amazon. The National Employment Law Project recently reported that two-thirds of truckers hauling goods from U.S. ports are intentionally misclassified as contractors rather than as employees of the profiteers that hire them, direct them, set their pay levels and fire them.
Of course, corporate bosses try to hide their greed with a thin legalistic fig leaf: “We believe our (drivers’) classifications are legal,” sniffed an XPO executive. Sure they are, sport, because your lobbyists write the laws! But might doesn’t make right, “legal” doesn’t mean moral and “boss” spelled backward is double-S.O.B.