9.02.2015

Exploitation, Part II

Private equity has shifted much of the legal liability of truck operation onto the driver. Private equity has accomplished this through lobbying the CMSA for expanded safety protocols that put all blame upon the driver and relieve the private equity ownership of liability. Both the private equity ownership and government can claim the public is safer. Its devious and well played on both their parts, because the accident lawyers (who are powerful politically as well) are still in business but are only able to strip the assets off drivers, not the private equity owned trucking companies. The federal government has added paperwork and requirements of drivers, hours of service regulations that when broken can trigger fines of thousands of dollars. So the federal government has opened up a new cash stream off the truck driver. 

The DOT has set up a points system with an account on each individual driver. These points accumulate as a result of citations and accidents and upon reaching a certain level cause the driver to be stripped of his CDL. Insurance companies also check a driver's points and may choose not to insure him. Because of the severe government oversight in trucking and frequent inspections, it is inevitable that a driver will get stuck with a bad trailer (1 in 5 trailers I pick up have a citable problem) and begin to have points added to his record.
At a certain point the driver will be done, out of the game. But this also serves the private equity spreadsheet men. For the elimination of older, experienced truckers who's wages have slowly risen by a penny a mile over a long period means they can be replaced with young, new drivers with clean records and, importantly for the spreadsheet, hired at the lowest per mile wage. As a result, trucking companies are always looking for new hires fresh out of trucking school.
In addition, there are the heavy punishments meted out by courts in recent cases involving truck accidents. One Florida driver was found to have been on his cell phone for 20 minutes during his DOT mandated 8 hour uninterrupted sleep in his sleeper berth. The judge and jury concluded this was evidence of negligence in an accident that killed 7 children on a school bus. The judge wanted to give him 7 years prison time for each of the 7 dead children. So the judicial system, district attorneys, and the public also get their piece of the truck driver, a person who they clearly view as not simply a public menace but a likely moral degenerate.
If wages had increased commensurate to the risks of fines and imprisonment (as well as because of government limits on drive time and introduction of paperwork) then a positive risk/reward for trucking might be argued. But since the Teamsters and other unions were broken, wages have stagnated despite drivers spending more time doing unpaid paperwork and being forced not to drive due to HOS limits.

It should be noted that mileage pay is also based off the distance between two cities as the crow flies, which, naturally, is much shorter than a truck route. Any driving done inside a city qualifies as 0 mileage. Additionally, the company has a policy that job assignments cannot be turned down. I recently had 2 trips with 2 two hour live loads (unpaid time) within Portland, which being within the city meant my miles driven was calculated at 0. That day I assumed the risks of fines and imprisonment in exchange for $0. 

I did some calculations based upon my work totals, which I broadly define as anything involved in the operation of the truck, meaning paperwork, ETA calculations, pre/post trips, hooking and unhooking trailers, live on/off loads, etc. Around 3-5 hours of my day I do things necessary to performing the job which are not actually driving, which means I am unpaid for those activities. A gross pay versus total hours worked leaves my effective hourly wages at under $10/hour, and this is, of course, working 7 days a week with total worked hours well over overtime. But as pay is calculated per mile there is no overtime for truck drivers. It is a crummy job, worse than a minimum wage job, and there is a constant risk of fines and prison time.

8.17.2015

The Old Man

"You get all talky and the next thing you know you got no money and you're driving a truck."--Moraline in conversation with Maximin, on the transition from trader big money to poverty

I learned a lot from the old man from New York when he visited and trained me to drive the dump truck. The little old guy had almost 50 years driving experience. He had driven everything. 

What I remember most was he was a funny pleasant guy out of the truck but the second he got behind the wheel he got angry and started cursing and yelling. With that thick Long Island accent he scared the hell out of the payloader and scale masters and jobsite laborers. Portland people didnt know what to make of it so they shut up. He was pissed off all the time behibd the wheel. One time this yahoo guy in downtown Portland says, "put it over there." Over there was backing blind around 3 corners with trenches on both sides. "Oh, fucking put it there, eh?" Says the old man. 

"Yeah."

Halfway there the old man sees the labrorer looking annoyed he's taking so long. 

"Hey! C'mere you!" He yells at the laborer. "What do you fucking think this is, a bicycle?"

The guy looked at him sheepishly now and said he was sorry. The old man acted like that on every jobsite we went to. 

I learned quickly to do the same when I started driving the dump truck by myself. They were vultures who only wanted to see you fail on the jobsites. You had to mistreat them to get any respect, or at least just to be left alone to make your dump. 

But when I started driving long haul over the road I went back to being nice and relaxed. I didnt think I would need to mistreat anyone. There werent any jobsites to go on. But there were other vultures all around me. The other long haul drivers. Then there were the idiots at the destinations watching you back in. There were idiot company drivers who even offered to spot for you just to fuck you up on your backing. 

The old man was right. Be pissed off all the time behind the wheel. Yell at everyone. It was the only way to be left alone and respected. 

8.16.2015

Exploitation, Part I

Before graduating from the Fontana, California Schneider Training Academy we were to have one final 2 hour presentation. It was to be a presentation against unions and the unionization of truck drivers. In length it rivaled the presentation against sexual harassment and was considerably longer than any presentation of driving technique and safety on the road. 

A young bearded guy wearing a Schneider polo entered the classroom. He had a big smile on his face.

"Welcome to Schneider! We're so glad you have joined the Schneider family! You are now a part of something really special! How is everyone doing today?!"

There was no answer.

He tried it again but louder. "How is everyone doing today?!"

"I guess its early and you guys have been in training for a long time. I know its tough. I'm not a driver, but I know its tough."

He became serious.

"Now, I want to get right to the point here. This is very important. You are going to be approached out on the road. A man will come to you and make you promises. He will want you to sign something. It will all appear to be in your best interests, to help you. This man works for a trucker's union. If you sign something, anything, it will mean that money comes out of your paycheck. Do not sign. I repeat, do not sign anything. When you sign something I can no longer help you. If you sign something they will take your money."

So this fat bearded clown was the company shill, I thought. Part hype man and part shill.

"Come to me if you are approached. Call me. We can discuss it. But do not sign anything. I am here to help you and to protect you. We do not need unions here at Schneider. We have an open door policy. We have respect and communication. With respect and communication a union can add nothing. A union can only cost you money. A union can do you no good."

He became cheerful again and said he had a video for us to watch.

"This video begins with an address from our CEO. I love this address. You are going to love this address. It gets me so excited and pumped up! Just to see and listen to our CEO fires me up and this address you're about to hear is just awesome!"

A pudgy middle aged man with a receding hairline appeared on the screen. He wore a sport jacket with an open collar and began to speak in a monotone voice about the values of respect and communication at Schneider. He went on to speak of the company's greatness, and it was then that I became distracted by his eyes which were slightly off from the center of the screen. They moved from right to left as he droned on and I realized he was reading off a teleprompter. I started to doze off. 

"Man that was great! How great was that!"

The company shill had awoken me.

I listened for awhile longer to his pro-Schneider and anti-union talk and I began to hate him. He had the sincere enthusiasm of a house nigger. He had betrayed each of us drivers for what he believed was a seat at the master's table. It was the worst sort of deficiency of character, and one he hoped to cover over to himself by getting us to agree with him and not join the union. I had only contempt for him.

"Does anyone have any questions?" asked the shill.

I raised my hand.

"How many times the average driver's salary is our CEO's annual income? Is this multiple increasing or decreasing?"

"I'm not sure I understand the question." The shill looked confused and uncertain. The others in the classroom turned around to look at me.

"How many times the average driver's salary is the CEO's salary? Over the last ten years is this multiple increasing or decreasing or staying steady? Its a question of income inequality."

"Oh, I think I understand your question. And that's a great question," the shill smiled, "And I can look that up for you. Come and see me after the presentation." He seemed to have regained his professional confidence. For a moment perhaps it had been in the balance.

But I did not approach him when the presentation ended and the shill made no attempt to stop me as I left the classroom. I hoped that the others had realized as I did, that whatever this bearded company clown shill was for, you, as a driver, had to be against. The message had not been wasted. Respect and communication be damned, the union was our only hope.

8.15.2015

The Asphalt Scar

It began with animals. Perhaps the smallest. It was a way through the forests and brush to get to something to sustain them. It was perhaps the best way to reach the water. Or the best way to pass when the seasons changed. 

The way through for these animals drew other, larger animals. Some were predators who fed upon the smaller animals who used the way. Others used the way for the same reasons the smaller animals did. The grasses were worn and pushed aside where the animals passed through. Wood ticks hung from the stalks of grass along the way waiting for the warmth of a passing animal to attach themselves and to feed.

One day a man appeared and used the way of the animals. He was drawn to the way just as the animals were. He found it led to a lake. There were fine views of the mountains that surrounded the valley. He called the way down to the lake his own.

The man built his house upon the lake and the way of the animals that was now his own he named Lakeside Way. He had a family and they used the way and now the animals were scared off. It was a human way now. It was a path. 

Then, later, the way was laid over with cinders for horse and carriage, and later with pavement for automobiles for the families who now vacationed at the many homes upon the lake. 

Then the local planners dammed the river that fed into the lake and the valley was washed out. The damming was necessary for hydro-power for electricity in the city and the cost/benefit analysis made it right. The first man's home and the vacation homes were now under the waters of a much larger lake. 

But part of the old road remained. A much larger road that was being built by the federal government was paved over the old Lakeside Way that was not under the lake. The federal government called the new asphalt road an interstate highway. 

Animals were drawn to the highway for the food that sometimes was thrown from the vehicles. Other animals tried to pass over the highway and get to the waters of the lake but were run over by truck drivers who's company policy is not to avoid animals. 

Along the interstate highway were deer without heads; in one place there were hundreds of crushed jackrabbits who had attempted a group crossing. There were dead skunks and racoons and other smudges upon the road that were unidentifiable. Men in their automobiles crashed and maimed and killed one another. It became a place for scavenging and for death. The vehicles passed so quickly over it. The way of animals had become an asphalt scar upon the land. 

7.18.2015

A Trucker's Chapel

At Love's Truckstop off I-95 in Woodburn, OR

The wages of sin is death, he told me. But the love of Jesus Christ the Lord is your forgiveness. Later that night I got down from the sleeper in the cab and went and urinated in the tall grass behind the chapel. It was a clear night and I could see across the dark fields to some silos. Beyond them were dark mountains. I thought of the wages of sin. Then I thought of my wages of 32 cents a mile. I walked back through the rows of idling big rigs. The noise reminded me of how the cicadas got every seven years. I climbed up into the cab and went back to sleep. 

6.09.2015

They Blew It Up

Of course my cb didnt work on that day either. It was on and off fr weeks. I was a fool to the scalemaster and payloader. When I asked him for 3/4 minus he told me something long and garbled. Whenever you can load me with it I said. He said more garbled stuff. Then he drove away. The quarry was empty. The crushers were not operating. The bulldozers had come off the mountain side. Nobody was in the excavator. Because the cb was out I had no idea what was going on. Then I saw a tiny drone rise up into the sky. It went up and up and then over to the side of the scaled off mountain. "5 minutes" something something I heard on the cb. Then I heard "1 minute" and somehing something. I realized the mountain was set to detonate. I was out in the middle of the quarry, alone, in my superdump. Aw hell, bring it down, I thought. Fuck it. Good a way as any. Then the mountain burped. A lateral section of it 1/2 way up exploded and came rumbling down. It seemed to happen in slow motion and then the muffled murmer reached me. The mountains were destroyed by an internal murmer. The drone moved in and surveyed what had been accomplished. Then the payloader drove back in. He didnt say anything on the cb. He loaded me with the 3/4 minus. Then he said something but I didnt understand that either.

5.30.2015

Lenny

Somewhere on Columbia Boulevard I missed the turn for St. John’s Bridge. I was loaded with 24 tons of screen sand, with the three pushers and Maxle arm down on the road. I lugged up a hill into a residential neighborhood and knew I was wrong. I pulled to the side of the road and put my flashers on. I had no map. I knew almost nothing of Portland. At trucking school they said to get out of the truck. They said not to panic. They said not to turn onto a street you can’t get it out of. I hadn’t done that yet but I was starting to panic. The fool I was to not have a good map of the city.

I climbed down and walked around the truck and took a deep breath. A truck this big and loaded was certainly prohibited in this area. If a cop saw me I was certain to be fined. This was bad, bad, bad. Still I hadn’t hit anything. It wasn’t yet lost. If only I could turn it around and get back to Columbia Boulevard I could try again for the bridge.

I got back into the cab, released the brake, and started the turn down another street. Because of the parked cars I couldn’t make it. I lifted the Maxle arm and backed up slowly, then pulled forward and put the arm down and made the turn. The low air warning buzzer went off blaring. I had dumped too much air pressure operating the Maxle. Stopped in the intersection I pushed down the throttle to get the air compressor going and to rebuild air pressure. Two little girls stopped playing and watched me. Three blocks ahead there was a busy street. I saw a cement truck pass. If only I could get to it.

At 70 psi the buzzer turned off. I started slowly down the street between the parked cars. I passed between them in first gear passing them within inches. A tree branch banged against the mirror. I took a deep breath. I came to the stop sign at Lombard and edged out into the heavy traffic, careful not to drive the trailing Maxle arm over the curb. I needed to go left and a sign indicated trucks heavier than 20,000 lbs were prohibited. I was well over that at 80,000 lbs. I didn’t see a cop and made the turn.

I hit Columbia Boulevard and joined the procession of trucks. I threw on the 4 cycle jake. I felt better now. Certainly the trucks knew where they were going. Certainly they would take me to the bridge. I was late for delivering the sand but that didn’t matter now.

But there was no sign for the bridge. The truck ahead went onto an overpass and I followed it into an industrial district. I was still lost and I would have to turn around again. I turned right into a cul de sac but the truck was too big to get around it. I lifted the Maxle, backed up, and put it down and started forward. The low air warning light and buzzer went off and the instrument panel lit up with red lights. In the mirror I saw there was something very wrong with the Maxle wheels. I jumped out of the truck and saw the Maxle tires folded under the metal arm. The wheels were twisted to the side and wedged between the pavement and the metal support of the arm. It looked ruined. Now I have destroyed it, I thought. And now it is lost. Everything is lost. I had only been driving for two weeks and everything was already in ruins.

I got back into the cab but there wasn’t air pressure to lift the Maxle arm. I sat there with the low air warning buzzer blaring and waited for the compressor to rebuild air pressure. When the gauge reached 100 psi I flipped the PTO and raised the Maxle. I got out and took a look at it. I saw it didn’t look damaged. I saw no cracks in the rods or along the important welds in the arm support. Perhaps I could put it down again. It was illegal to drive 24 tons without it down. Perhaps I could get it down and then I could find the bridge.

I climbed into the cab and lowered the Maxle. It watched it hit the ground in the mirror but I saw the mudflaps on the pavement. The secondary motion of the Maxle that extended the wheels out was not functioning. Then the low air warning buzzer went off again. I waited to air up to 100 psi and tried to lower the Maxle. But the same thing happened. The wheels of the Maxle were not extending out beyond the metal support. The low air warning buzzer went off again and I saw that the needle on the air pressure gauge was not rising beyond 105 psi. There was something wrong with the air going to the Maxle. I was dumping too much air to lower it.

I aired up and lowered it and stopped with the wheels just above the pavement. As I sat and watched the air pressure building on the gauge I heard a release of air and in the mirror I saw that the wheels had extended out. It was a miracle. I lowered the wheels to the pavement. Now I could move the load.

I started back down Lombard and went up the overpass. In this direction there was as a small sign for the truck route that I knew would lead me to the bridge. I followed the trucks ahead of me through the city streets and then over the bridge and into the industrial area on the other side of the river.

I was hours late when I made the dump at the cement plant in Linnton. I called Lenny the mechanic and explained the problem with the Maxle arm. Lenny told me to bring it up to Scappoose.

I turned in to the dusty, potholed yard jammed with banged up old Superdumps, transfer trailers, and piles of rusted truck parts and tires. In front of the garage Lenny was smashing at something with a tire iron. I got out and walked over. He ignored me. The tall bald man pounded on the tire rim and cursed. Lenny was furious. A purple faced guy with no teeth stood by and watched him.

Then Lenny turned to me, “Lemme look at it.”

I lowered the Maxle arm to just above the ground and turned off the truck. I explained the problem to Lenny.

“I’m gonna fucking fix it, alright?” he said. The man was very angry.

I stood back and watched him cut the air hose. The purple faced man mumbled something to Lenny. Lenny spit in the dust. Lenny removed a small metal box from the Maxle and walked back to the garage with the purple faced man.

They were gone a long time. I remembered what the old man had told me about getting on Lenny’s good side. I remembered the liquor store just before the yard and walked to it. I bought a fifth of whisky from the old woman inside and went back to the yard. Lenny and the purple faced man were doing something to the Maxle.

“Build air pressure and raise it,” Lenny told me. “Then lower it.”

I throttled it up to run the compressor and watched the needle on the gauge rise faster than I had ever seen it. I flipped the PTO and lowered the Maxle. It lowered properly and the wheels extended out. Hardly any air pressure was lost. Whatever Lenny had done had worked.

I got down and gave Lenny the brown bag with the bottle. He took the bottle out and smiled and I saw his rotten teeth. The purple faced man was smiling too. We were friends now.

“You’ll be here every week with that truck. That’s dump trucks,” said Lenny. “I’ve run dumps all my life and that’s what dumps do. Something breaks on ‘em every week.”

“Every week,” said the purple faced man.

“You can’t haul that kind of weight without something breaking every day,” said Lenny.

“Every day,” said the purple faced man.

“They just have a lifetime of breaking down.” Lenny spit in the dust. “You’ll just get used to it.”

 
 
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