Spurred by a global economy that demands that goods be delivered on time and at low prices, business has never been so brisk and so cutthroat. Paid by the delivery, not the hour, the country's 350,000 independent truckers like [Roger] Kobernick are lashed to punishing schedules that practically force them to live in their rigs. Counting all their time on the job, some earn as little as $8 an hour.The speed-up is still with us. "Every day, port trucking companies around Los Angeles put hundreds of impaired drivers on the road, pushing them to work with little or no sleep in violation of federal safety regulations, a USA TODAY Network investigation found." One inducement, the rent-to-own contract, appears to be a snare.
Long hours, chaotic schedules and exhausting work conditions make for a potentially lethal formula--for truck drivers and everyone else on the road.
California port truckers have been forced to work long days against their will.On the other hand, perhaps the fleet operators benefitted from an economy with few alternatives for men (primarily) with strong bodies and not necessarily a trade or professional credential. Perhaps that is changing.
Over the past decade, many companies pushed drivers into debt by requiring them to buy trucks through company-sponsored lease-to-own programs.
Drivers found themselves trapped in jobs that paid them pennies per hour after expenses. If they complained or refused to work past the legal limit, they could be fired and lose their truck along with thousands they paid toward its purchase.
Trucking company executives contacted by USA TODAY Network denied allowing their drivers to violate fatigue rules. Some noted that two drivers sometimes share one truck, a practice that could account for long stints of activity.
“We believe your analysis of driver gate data is perhaps a bit misplaced,” said Kevin Dukesherer, president of Progressive Transportation Services.
Almost 400,000 people nationwide obtain commercial driver licenses every year. But the nomadic life and low pay fuels constant turnover. Trucking executives warn the country is desperately short of drivers to run the nation's fleet of 4 million heavy freight trucks, known as Class 8 vehicles.Watch the inducements. The rent-to-own dodge appears to be an economy measure on the part of fleet operators seeking to reduce compensation, not exactly a winning recruiting strategy in a tight labor market.
While the American Trucking Association, a trade group near Washington, says truck lines immediately need 50,000 more drivers, an owner-operator group contends plenty of drivers are available. In short supply is freight.Too many trucks and truck lines have caused the big truck companies to actively turn over the staff of drivers in a bid to raise profit by recruiting novice drivers at lower compensation, said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, an organization in Grain Valley, Mo., representing about 160,000 owner-operators.
“People talk about the driver shortage. What they're really talking about is turnover,” Spencer said. "It’s a really tough job. You work hard and you work a lot. There's lots and lots of personal sacrifice. People get tired of the stress and leave."