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[P]
The Economics of Truck Driving

By Philipp in MLP
Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 10:01:37 PM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)
Politics

Did you ever wonder what happened to the book that you ordered at Amazon? Well, here is a nice SF Gate article about the working conditions of truck drivers. Considering the recent discussions here about starting unions in dot.coms, it might be helpful to know how the situation turns out elsewhere when the market shifts against you and there are no unions and labor standards in support of the employees.


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The Economics of Truck Driving | 31 comments (28 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Economics? (3.40 / 5) (#1)
by jasonab on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 04:32:29 PM EST

I'm a little lost. All I've been hearing for years now is how there's such a shortage of truck drivers, and how they burn out so fast. So why have wages been going down?

jason

--
America is a great country. One of the freest in the world. -- greenrd
Here's an interesting tidbit (3.42 / 7) (#2)
by GreenCrackBaby on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 04:38:03 PM EST

According to the article, the average truck driver in the US makes $40,000 (~$60,000 Canadian). The average Canadian income is ~$50,000 ($33,000 US). This fact alone does away with much of my compassion for them.

The people that really need to unionize are fast food employees. Those people (not the 14 year olds, but the people that do it for a living) are abused and enslaved.

$40,000 a yr but 70 hr work weeks (4.00 / 1) (#5)
by reel_life on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 05:06:34 PM EST

And having worked with and talked to many truck drivers (as a pilot car), 70 hours is a pretty low estimation.

Just from the perspective of a pilot car driver, I know less oversized loads are moving(and less work), which usually means there is less construction. Reduced construction means that in the long run, the economy is or will be experiencing a downturn

Madness takes its toll on everyone. Please have exact change.
[ Parent ]

Stop working for bad companies (none / 0) (#17)
by Miniluv on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 08:18:03 PM EST

70 hour weeks are not the "norm" in the trucking industry, not even in the long haul driving world. I worked for two and a half years in the trucking industry as a dispatcher/office worker, and rarely did our guys put in more than 50 a week in hours unless they asked for the hours.

Don't get me wrong, truck drivers are just as hard working as anybody else, if not harder, but they aren't particularly put upon. Also bear in mind, our drivers were all non-union, and preferred being that way.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]

Similarly in the UK... (3.00 / 1) (#7)
by SIGFPE on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 05:09:32 PM EST

...the average salary is about US$40,000 or less but prices in the UK compared to the US are very high - typically 1 for $1 rule holds for a large class of goods.
SIGFPE
[ Parent ]
Quality of life (4.00 / 1) (#8)
by fluffy grue on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 05:19:51 PM EST

But consider what they do for a living. It's not simply going from 8 AM to 5 PM, they live on the road. Their personal life sucks monkey poo thanks to that, and they're typically paid based on the number of jobs completed, which means that they end up putting in a lot of unpaid "overtime" just to make that $40K salary. I certainly don't envy their position.
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Fast food workers CHOOSE to be fast food workers. (none / 0) (#29)
by DeanT on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 11:33:25 AM EST

The people that really need to unionize are fast food employees. Those people (not the 14 year olds, but the people that do it for a living) are abused and enslaved.

Personally, I rarely (but occasionally) feel a twing of compassion for fast food folks. I worked at Mickey-D's for years putting myself through school. It's my experience that employees fall into these categories:

  1. People who didn't give a damn about school and couldn't wait to get a job so they could show off their new car while you were struggling to work enough hours to pay your school bills AND go to school.
  2. People that have to work to help support a family which has no real "skilled" wage earner. Typically this was a young (accidental) mother (married or not).
They all seem to fall into the category of "fell victim to extreme short-sightedness". Even then there are many programs to help exactly this type of person get an education, IF THEY WOULD DO IT.

You see there's ignorant and there's stupid. Ignorance is curable. And there are really very few people that are incurably stupid. [I seem to cross paths with every one of them on my drive to work though... :) ]

Hey, it may seem harsh, but if you're not willing to put out the effort to get a better job maybe you should just be prepared to reap what you sowed. It's called Personal Responsibility and there are damn few willing to accept it these days.

<Shrug>
DeanT

[ Parent ]

And truck drivers are smarter? (3.00 / 1) (#30)
by GreenCrackBaby on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 11:50:04 AM EST

I'm completely agreeing with what you are saying, except when you compare a truck driver's average salary ($40,000) to a fast food worker's salary (<$20,000), you can see who's worse off.

The article states that truck drivers (on average) have high school education at most. Clearly lack of education is a problem for both -- but I would say the fast food workers bear the brunt of abuse.

[ Parent ]

Well I think this is just WRONG.... (2.25 / 8) (#4)
by daystar on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 04:57:35 PM EST

... my heart goes out to those poor bastards. Stuck in voluntary servitude with no hope to ever buy their freedom. Literal SLAVES, they have no choice but to keep working.

And the fast food workers!! Trapped in a voluntary agreement to exchange their services for money. When will this butchery END!!?

--
There is no God, and I am his prophet.

Sure, talk now... (2.00 / 2) (#11)
by iCEBaLM on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 05:32:27 PM EST

.. until you realise that trucks keep food on your table, computer equiptment on your desk, clothes on your back, mail in your mailbox and every other consumer good you have in your posession. Without trucks those goods would never have gotten anywhere, not to the grocery store, not to the computer shop, not to the mall, or wherever.

Without the trucking industry, our society would halt.

-- iCEBaLM

[ Parent ]

The problem is (4.00 / 1) (#16)
by aphrael on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 06:46:24 PM EST

that truck drivers get themselves into a trap from which escape is almost impossible. Changing careers requires developing new skills; developing new skills requires free time (which truckers don't typically have) or money to live off of while not working (which truckers typically don't have). The fact that people in the computer industry can often work developing new skills into their existing jobs is an anomaly; most workers *can't* do that.

Being an independant trucker sucks. You own the equipment, so you're responsible for maintenance; but finding the time for maintenance is difficult, because your delivery schedules are such that it's next to impossible to make the delivery without either (a) violating speed limit laws or (b) driving longer in one shift than you are supposed to. The companies that hire you want the cheapest services they can get, which means you are operating on a razor-thin profit margin --- and a lot of runs, if the price of gas goes up unexpectedly or you are delayed by weather or have unexpected maintenance, actually result in a *loss*. You're always away from your family, and have no reliable social ties other than family and other truckers (because you're always gone); you don't get good sleep, and eat more than your fair share of junk food so are at unusually high risk for health problems. And after you've been doing it for a certain length of time, changing careers isn't a reasonable option --- you don't have any skills except truck driving, and how would you get them?

[ Parent ]

Changing skills (none / 0) (#23)
by zerth on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 12:39:09 AM EST

> And after you've been doing it for a certain length of time, changing careers isn't a
> reasonable option --- you don't have any skills except truck driving, and how would
> you get them?


Books on tape:}

Rusty isn't God here, he's the pope; our God is pedantry. -- Subtillus
[ Parent ]
Invalid comparison (4.00 / 5) (#6)
by trhurler on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 05:08:16 PM EST

Truck drivers and computer professionals have little in common. Most truck drivers are paid by the mile, and their actual rate depends on a great many things. In addition, trucking competes with other modes of transport. On the other hand, system admins and programmers can only be replaced with other similar people. There is no alternative computer industry.

In addition, I have lots of options. I can do what I do now. I can do system admin work. I can do project management, but I really wouldn't want to. I can do work in several non-computer fields. Most computer people are similar. We're just not as susceptible to market fluctuations, except of course that I suppose our lamers are. Frankly, I don't give a damn about them; I'm not about to pay union dues so some halfwit who can barely install a win2k system can have job security.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

Not giving a damn (1.66 / 3) (#9)
by recursive on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 05:26:06 PM EST

You will have read this before. Hoewver, it is still true.

In Germany, they came first for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists but I didn't speak up because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time nobody was left to speak up.

Martin Niemoeller, Protestant Minister & Holocast Survivor


-- My other car is a cdr.


[ Parent ]
Not really... (3.00 / 3) (#10)
by iCEBaLM on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 05:28:28 PM EST

In addition, trucking competes with other modes of transport.

Not really. What other form of transportation are you going to use to get groceries to the supermarket? Toys to Walmart? etc. Nothing competes with the trucking industry when it comes to logging, scrap and trash hauling, retail hauling, etc. Other modes just aren't feesable or possible.

-- iCEBaLM

[ Parent ]

Trucking (4.00 / 3) (#12)
by trhurler on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 05:39:42 PM EST

The trucking you talk about is either short haul or specialized. Most trucking is long haul transport of heavy goods that can similarly be moved by airplane, barge, and/or train. When you hear about the drop in trucking wages, you can bet they're talking about long haul freight guys. A lot of what they carry can be done other ways, but this is heavily route dependent. I suspect trucking will continue a slow decline because air freight rates are going to drop slowly but inexorably for quite a while to come now. This will reach an equilibrium point, of course, and trucking will survive, but it won't be quite so utterly dominant.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Re: Trucking (3.50 / 2) (#26)
by iCEBaLM on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 04:57:32 AM EST

The trucking you talk about is either short haul or specialized.

I'm sorry, but it isn't. Food is transported all over (oranges from florida, potatos from Idaho/PEI, etc) as are retail goods. Logging is relatively short, however lumber isn't. Toronto trucks it's trash to Detroit, I wouldn't really call that short myself.

Most trucking is long haul transport of heavy goods that can similarly be moved by airplane, barge, and/or train.

Yeah, I can really see a barge going from Edmonton to Texas. Trains are being outmoded for a lot of transport, chemicals and raw materials is where trains really shine. And you still need trucks to transport cargo to/from airports.

When you hear about the drop in trucking wages, you can bet they're talking about long haul freight guys. A lot of what they carry can be done other ways, but this is heavily route dependent.

I don't hear it, I live it. My family is very trucking-centric. Unless you live in a major city you are not going to be doing short haul anything. There just aren't enough planes in the sky or airports on the ground for air to ever take over trucking. Trucks will always be the dominant mode of transportation, that is, until the invention of the teleporter.

-- iCEBaLM

[ Parent ]

Silly me... (none / 0) (#28)
by trhurler on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 11:12:30 AM EST

Trains are being outmoded for a lot of transport,
This might change. There are some 350+mph trains now, and the technology is not prohibitively expensive. If existing rights of way were upgraded, this could put a real dent in long haul trucking.
Trucks will always be the dominant mode of transportation, that is, until the invention of the teleporter.
I would agree with the statement "until the advent of something." I'm not willing to agree that your crystal ball is so good that you know it will be a teleporter. Simply put, the future is a real pain in the ass to figure out. It could be such a device, but what if we had cheap, affordable, reliable heavy lift aircraft thanks to some gravity manipulation device, or any of a million other ideas? I've seen proposals for hydraulic subterranean tunnel systems that would be vastly cheaper to operate than any other mode of transport, and not much more expensive to construct than an interstate. There are other possibilities, of course.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Things might change (3.00 / 1) (#19)
by Philipp on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 08:43:08 PM EST

Don't be too sure about the cozy bubble you live in. Things might change. The whole focus of computer programming is to automate things, so the work you are doing right now is done by software. Sure, there will be still demand for programmers (as there is demand for truck drivers), but it may be much less than now.

alias kn 'killall -9 netscape-communicator'
[ Parent ]
Well, (4.00 / 2) (#20)
by trhurler on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 08:53:01 PM EST

I'm not overly concerned. Simply put, even if the field shrank by a hundredfold, I'd still be employed and happy. Being good has its benefits. I realize this may not be applicable to most people, but I'm not interested in unions - period.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
One question (3.00 / 2) (#21)
by Philipp on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 10:18:33 PM EST

Do you really believe that only people who are extraordinarily good at something like yourself deserve a decent living?

alias kn 'killall -9 netscape-communicator'
[ Parent ]
(2.50 / 2) (#22)
by dgwatson on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 11:32:13 PM EST

Sure - if you're no good at what you do, then why should you get paid well?

If someone isn't doing their job, they should be fired or demoted.

Unless, of course, it happens to be me.

;)

[ Parent ]
Ah, you see... (none / 0) (#27)
by trhurler on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 11:05:01 AM EST

That is not a question that concerns me. I work for small companies. If a company gets big enough that it starts hiring people who aren't very good, or is stupid enough to hire some of them while small, I leave.

However, since you obviously want a general answer, that's a bit of a copout, so I'll give this answer: when I was growing up, I almost took a job in a supermarket. I would have been forced to join a union. Then I was forced to do so in order to take a factory job on two occasions. I will never join another union, voluntarily or otherwise, because it serves me no purpose and costs me money. Now, if other people want to organize, that is their business. Good for them. As long as they don't try to convince my employer to require me to join them, I'll smile and nod and keep doing my job. If they do that, though, they will find that I can get a new job inside of a week - and am not at all afraid to do so if that's what I think I need to do.

That whole "free association" thing is a double edged sword - unions have a right to their organizations, but I've got a right not to be a part of them.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
The only problem... (4.00 / 1) (#14)
by chuqui on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 05:50:11 PM EST

the situation for many truck drivers is terrible, but.. the premise of this piece trying to tie it to Amazon fails, because Amazon ships all of their stuff via the USPS and UPS, and both of those are unionized groups and their drivers don't have these conditions.

Those conditions are all true -- but not all truck drivers live in those conditions. The freelance drivers do, many of them *could* choose to join up iwth a major trucking firm if they wanted, too, but prefer being independent.

Which doesn't mean their conditions shouldn't improve -- it's like the rest of life, where companies are squeezing every nickel out of their costs every place they can, and the drivers, unfortunately, don't have the power to push back (a classic situation where unions can step in and fix a problem, in fact....)


-- Chuq Von Rospach, Internet Gnome <http://www.chuqui.com> <kuro@chuqui.com> "The first rule of holes: If you are in one, stop digging"
not necessarily... (none / 0) (#31)
by barooo on Thu Feb 01, 2001 at 12:30:47 PM EST

My dad works as a driver for a medium-sized firm, and they occaisonally haul mail. Well, magazines and bulk-rate shit, but that's what amazon usually uses. Maybe the USPS contracts out their surplus on low-priority stuff? Or maybe I misunderstood him and he was hauling magazines from for the magazine distributor, but he said it was "mail"


--
[G. W. Bush makes] one long for the flashy showmanship of Calvin Coolidge, the easy eloquence of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the simple honesty of Richard Nixon.
P. M. Carpenter
[ Parent ]
Longer Version (2.00 / 1) (#18)
by Philipp on Tue Jan 30, 2001 at 08:39:35 PM EST

As "weasel" discovered, there is a slighly longer story of the article in the New York Times. It even computes the hourly wage of truck drivers to $11.50.

alias kn 'killall -9 netscape-communicator'
I work as a dispatcher (5.00 / 5) (#24)
by DRAC0 on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 12:50:02 AM EST

I work at a truck brokerage as a dispatcher. I havent been on the job very long, but I have heard a lot of troublesome stories. It's true truckers get plunty of money for taking a load, but a lot of that is ate up in the fuel expenses, tarps, straps, pallet charges and lumper charges. (lumpers load and unload the loads for ungodly prices using a forklift, go figure why that is so hard that they can charge 300 bucks to unload 22 pallets of onions)

A typical load of onions from nyssa,id to miami,fl can get the driver in upwards of 2500 to 3000 dollars. The truckers we work with are paid by the amount of the load that they can take. The loads are contracted from a produce broker to be picked up at a location on the west coast to be delivered to the east coast, the produce brokers contact either a trucker or a truck brokerage like the company I work for (which typically take 10% to 15% of what the receiver,shipper or produce broker is paying for freight). Sometimes you can catch a produce broaker poketing a little bit of the money or someone else through the line.

Produce loads dont pay as good as other commodities because their value varies as the product ages because they are parishable and sensative to temp. humitity and light. Right now truck known as Vans or Vented Vans (looks like a refreigerated truck just without the fridge in the front or bottom) are being required to carry propane heaters to be lit at night to keep loads from freezing.

Every type of load has liabilities, but produce loads have the worst liabilities. You cant just sit over the weekend with a load of onions in the truck, they will rot, mildew or freeze, all making the value of the load to the receiver decrease. Produce loads have to go through an FDA inspection and grade A in order to get loaded. Then on the receiver's end, surprise inspections by the FDA are done or request by the receiver/shipper to provide proof of the value of a load (usually requested if a truck is late it only takes 5 or 6 days to go from NW US to NE US even taking southern routes to miss wintery weather)

I feel particularly sympathetic towards the trucking industry, they are the backbone of the US and carries the entire US's commercial product at some point in time. Truckers get screwed over often by some crooked shippers or receivers. Some shippers or receivers just dont pay well or wont pay at all (thankfully there are credit reporting companies like compunet and Electronic blue book that can help them steer clear of accounting disasters, but they arent entirely easy to keep from running into)

As a truck brokerage we have to take the task of billing the shipper or receiver then paying the truck. But some shippers hold onto their money over the 30 day net pay requirement on into 90 days or 130 days (we have one that hasnt paid on a load from 1999). Sometimes our company comes into a little trouble when we have to pay truckers on loads they took but the shipper hasnt paid us on yet. That ties up our money and makes us have to hold over a bill a little late sometimes thus making our credit look bad. Unfortunately some credit reporting companies like compunet require very little information from someone who wants to put a lein on our credit or bond (it really pisses my boss off) which doesnt make sense to me. Anyone can pose as a driver and put something on our credit record, without sending any paper work in. Compunet also creates a lot of hassle to clear up credit records after things have settled or been paid on a case.

If that doesnt spook you out of getting into trucking... get yourself a few good lawyers and buy a truck and trailer, insurance and start hauling. You will need the Sharks to fight the dead beat shippers/receivers and to get the insurance companies to pay when you have troubled loads or accidents.

All and all it's a terribly tough job, but someone has to do it. Just please, PLEASE PLEASE if you cant speak very good english take some speaking lessons! Noone can understand broken english-spanish-japanese-asian languages over the phone, especially with 8 to 10 other people in the same room conversing on the phone (just a personal pet peve).

DRACO-

*** In order to bend the spoon, you have to first realize you are holding a butterknife you dolt! ***

As a grizzled veteran I have to disagree (4.80 / 5) (#25)
by Miniluv on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 03:27:07 AM EST

Alright, so I'm not exactly grizzled, but I do have a couple years in the freight business under my belt, and honestly your comment reads exactly like mine would've had I been in the position to comment on a story like this in my first 6 months in the business.

I work at a truck brokerage as a dispatcher. I havent been on the job very long, but I have heard a lot of troublesome stories.
Well, truck brokerage firms are usually pretty scummy, no offense. Shippers hate the necessity, truckers hate the lower pay, forwarders hate the competition, and the big truck lines hate everyone but themselves. Dispatchers are usually some of the least liked people in any given firm, despite being one of the hardest and most essential jobs. War stories are a favorite pastime amongst dispatchers and truckers, and only the really horrific stories are worth telling.

The truckers we work with are paid by the amount of the load that they can take.
This is not, in my experience, particularly accurate. Pay is almost always by mileage or some figure based on it, with a multiplier figured in based on specialty equipment requirements. Flatbeds are more than dry vans, reefers less than step-decks, for example. Shippers typically pickup any extraordinary charges, such as lumpers, pallet swaps, special permits, etc.

Every type of load has liabilities, but produce loads have the worst liabilities.
Absolutely not true. They may have more potentials for disaster in terms of a total loss of load situation, but their liabilities are much lower than many other types of goods. Dangerous goods are the most expensive to insure because you must be covered against damage to both cargo and surroundings. Many carriers refuse to handle DGs for this reason, in conjunction with the regulatory hassle of becoming certified and maintaining said certification. Electronic equipment, computers and the like, typically has far higher monetary liability titles than a dry van full of onions could ever have, due to the high value to small size ratio inherent in the goods. Brokerage firms also rarely accept full value liability, instead the norm being $.50USD/100 pounds. Insurance above and beyond that is paid for, the "industry standard" being $.50/$100 insured.

I feel particularly sympathetic towards the trucking industry, they are the backbone of the US and carries the entire US's commercial product at some point in time.
Extremely true, along with the rail industry. For long haul loads the rail system in the US carries an extraordinary amount of cargo tonnage due to the sheer carrying capacity of trains. It takes somewhat longer to rail a shipment than pure trucking of it due to the hub-network setup the rail industry uses, but it is far more economical. Trucking however is an industry that the economy silently relies on, often to the blind ignorance of virtually everyone involved in the process.

But some shippers hold onto their money over the 30 day net pay requirement on into 90 days or 130 days
This is common through-out the business world. The usual "cure" is to offer a slight discount on on-time payments, we normally paid 5% less to our vendors, and charged 3% less to our shippers at the forwarder I was at. The small percentage does affect the bottom line, but it worked miracles in dealing with mildly relacritant debtors. The other option is always putting a lien on future shipments, usually unofficially. Many a shipment sat on our dock until a check was received for past due bills, and rarely did that same shipper make the same mistake again.

Anyone can pose as a driver and put something on our credit record, without sending any paper work in.
This sounds like an issue to take up with either the Better Business Bureau or some legal agency. I cannot report your personal credit as delinquent to Equifax without proof, and the same holds true in the business world with the credit authorities at Dunn & Bradstreet. I've never heard of Compunet, we always used D&B as our certifier of credit on either end of a transaction.

I had a lot of fun working in the freight industry, it could be an exhilirating job making miracles happen for clients in a way that could make or break their business. Sales were won or lost based on the way we handled their freight, we even had accounts which involved life or death for the consignee of the freight. It's not a business for the weak of will, faint of heart, or intolerant of high quantity low quality bullshit. The industry is chock full of people who don't want to be there, stereotypical alcoholics and drug addicts, and generally unfriendly types. There are also plenty of hidden gems of people to work with, with the prize commodity of any employee being their network of contacts. I could walk into most Chicago area freight forwarders and get at least an interview purely based on who I know, and that's having been entirely out of the loop for a year.

Give yourself some time to get acclimated to the business and I think you'll find yourself having more fun than heartache. If not, I'd advise changing jobs fast because the burnout can come really quickly.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]

The Economics of Truck Driving | 31 comments (28 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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