Some people might not know this, but truck drivers are a highly political bunch. And from October 11th to 13th, many plan to make their voices known in Washington D.C. by…PARKING.
Truck drivers are a notoriously conservative bunch. And surprisingly, it’s not because trucking is just another blue-collar job filled with hopeless idiots. Truckers are a highly skilled and highly trained group as a whole, and not particularly stupid. A certain amount of it has to do with the fact that the trucking industry has traditionally attracted Midwest farm boys, mostly because they’re comfortable hauling heavy equipment, don’t mind working really long hours, and are more comfortable driving stick-shift diesels than the average Camry driver.
While the advent of the automated manual transmission and recent hours-of-service regulations has diversified the demographic somewhat, truckers are still pretty right-leaning, even Libertarian, as a whole. You might be too, if you were a middle-class, small business owner getting constantly screwed by government policy favoring billionaires and huge corporations. And that’s the real reason truckers (particularly truck owners) tend to lean conservative.
So, even though truck stops may not be the Klan rallies that they used to be, you can expect any concept that trickles through the Grand Old Tea Party to make its way down through the trucking industry eventually. That includes the idea of “shut-down to protest.”
Glenn Beck’s The Blaze predictably embraced the planned trucker strike in this editorial, directing readers to this video from Kevin Allan:
“The American people are sick and tired of the corruption that is destroying America! We therefore declare a GENERAL STRIKE on the weekend of October 11-13, 2013! Truck drivers will not haul freight! Americans can strike in solidarity with truck drivers!”
You can bet they’re not talking about the Koch Brothers.
While there are a lot of political reasons behind the strike, the rising cost of diesel fuel…
…(combined with ever-more-Draconian hour-of-service rules) was ultimately the catalyst that drove the movement. Not for the first time, either. Trucker strikes protesting the cost of fuel happened in 1973, and again in 1979. In the second instance, about 100,000 owner-operators shut down in the middle of their runs, costing the country millions in lost revenue. That’s a pretty impressive nationwide strike for something that was only arranged via CB radio. Then again, the fact that striking truckers were posting up on overpasses, shooting and killing non-striking drivers as they passed under might have had something to do with the its effectiveness.
(By the way, gun ownership in 1979 covered about 50% of the U.S. population.)
Eventually, the strike ended when Carter promised to fix it, and truck drivers got tired of being broke. And it obviously worked; diesel cost about $1.00 a gallon at the time, and it’s WAY less than that now.
So, this newest strike hopes to repeat the feat, upping the ante by not just organizing a general strike across the nation, but (taking a cue from 9/11’s motorcyclist rally) by parking the striking trucks in Washington D.C. itself as a sign of protest. And with about 13.5 million trucks on the road today, this could have a major impact on our barely recovering economy.
Maybe. Sort of.
The trucking industry of today isn’t what it was in 1979, and not just because most truckers don’t drive around armed to the teeth and tweaked out on West Coast Turnarounds. The fact is that back in 1979, owner-operators (people who owned the truck and paid for their own fuel and maintenance) made up the overwhelming percentage of the trucking industry. Now, it’s just the opposite: Only about 9% of trucks on the road today are owner-ops, and many of those are actually “lease operators” driving for companies like Prime. The rest are straight company drivers, who don’t pay for fuel, and don’t get a choice as to whether or not they want to got on strike that day. At least, not if they want to keep their jobs. Still, a few company drivers and lease-ops are bound to “strike” on those days…because they were going to “strike” anyway.
The way the new hours-of-service rules and company policies work, truck drivers almost always have to take about one day a week off, or go home for two to three days out of the month. This “home time” is something usually routinely scheduled with the dispatcher, though many companies offer a certain degree of flexibility on the matter. And drivers don’t always have to take home time AT HOME — that’s one of the perks of the business, if you like paid tourism.
So, at any given time, somewhere around 1/7th (about 14.5%) of all trucks on the road are parked anyway, because the drivers are on one of their forced HOS days off, or because they’re on home time. So even if every owner-op in the country and 6% of all the company drivers in the country went on “strike” during that time, it wouldn’t have any more real impact on the economy than any other three days of the week. Which is exactly why this protest is scheduled for exactly three days, as opposed to the infinite strike of 1979.
But, surely, 500,000 to a million or so trucks idling in our nation’s capital would send a message. Right? Maybe. Sort of.
Like most major cities, Washington D.C. has strict regulations on where trucks can go and where they can’t, and D.C. is stricter than most. There are many approved truck routes in the city where commercial vehicles can’t drive unless they have a permit to be there, and that includes much of the area around the White House. And, you can’t idle your truck in D.C. Or find parking anywhere inside the beltway. Even bobtail, it’s hard to come by. Seems our effete little bureaucrats never have been too fond of dirty truckers taking up their real estate, oil-smoking their money piles, or Jake-braking their meetings with Rupert Murdoch.
So, what does this all mean for the nation as a whole? Aside from as a means of protest…probably very little. This really just amounts to a few truck drivers coordinating their scheduled days off with empty trailers, and then returning to work when they’re over.
Truck drivers really do have a lot of valid complaints about the Fed. Speaking as a former driver myself, I can tell you that many of trucking’s ever-tightening regulations that fail to make the roads any safer or the air any cleaner have done nothing but raise Hell for drivers and take a significant chunk out of their paychecks. It’s a great job, but a hard one, and a hard life. And anyone who drives a quarter-to-half-million miles a year at 6 miles to the gallon is going to feel every penny of increase in the cost of fuel. So there’s a valid bitch here. Like many middle-class, small-business owners, truck drivers are getting hit very hard by the favors and tax loopholes extended to the super-rich, and to the companies that regularly victimize them. Personally, I really hope they DO find a way to deliver a real message to Washington.
But…PLEASE, truckers, do yourselves a favor and don’t mention anything Glenn Beck has said while you’re there. And if you simply must, for the love of God, stop off at the Petro in Bordentown, NJ and have them write your signs for you.