Corporatism on 18 Wheels
The American Trucking Association is bad for Truckers, Bad for Supply Chains, Bad for Republicans, and Bad For America
The American Trucking Association, for those of my readers who don’t know, is a Corporate Lobby Group which acts on behalf of many of America’s largest corporations - Amazon, Proctor and Gamble, and many other Fortune 500 companies.
You won’t find this on their website, because this lobbying is laundered through the membership of ATA, who mostly represent large Legacy Carriers, and smaller, state level trucking associations, whose customers are these massive corporations.
Sane people, who pay little attention to politics, might see a name like “American Trucking Association” and think to themselves, hey, these guys must be some kind of group that represents truckers, right?
Truckers understand that the ATA lobbies for policies which harm us, pay us less, and make our lives more difficult.
If you want a full rundown of the rapid descent of the trucking industry over the last 40 years, as well as detailed analysis of how the ATA is up to their eyeballs in greasing the slope, I would heartily recommend these books to you -
Sweatshops on Wheels, by former trucker, Teamster, and current Professor of Economics at Wayne State University, Michael Belzer, was published in 2000, and is the first academic deep dive into what became of the American Trucker in the wake of deregulation, care of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980.
The Big Rig - Trucking and The Decline of The American Dream , by Penn State Sociologist Steve Viscelli, picks up where Belzer left off, and further examines how large trucking concerns, as represented by the ATA, employ legally suspect arrangements of indentured servitude, marketed as ‘Lease Operator’ agreements, as well as the use of taxpayer funds for CDL Mills, to debase truckers wages and carry on the big lie we all know and love, the ‘Truck Driver Shortage’.
Anyone who follows the work of my friend Rachel Premack over at FreightWaves, or of the fine folks at OOIDA, the Owner-Operator/Independent Drivers Association, or my boys Rooster and Supertrucker over at Back The Truck Up podcast know all about the very fake Driver Shortage Narrative.
For a short version of the story, Rachel wrote this great piece over at her former employers, Business Insider.
The American Trucking Association, rotten scum that they are, have been the Numero Uno promulgators of this lie for decades now. And because of that lie, they have convinced local, state, and federal levels of government to shovel millions upon millions of dollars in grants and subsidies to truck driving schools owned by their members, rather than address their real problem, which is churn caused by lack of retention, which is itself caused by underpaying truckers and treating them like shit.
I have written about this, and possible solutions, in many places; a good place to start following that is right here on Substack -
Fast forward to today, and the ATA is still dissembling in the face of reality.
In this must read MODES newsletter by Rachel Premack, we encounter some doozies from ATA Chief ‘Economist’ Bob Costello -
Paying drivers more can result in them working less, according to Costello of the ATA. “With regard to pay, counterintuitively, increased pay rates can lead some drivers to work less in order to be home more often,” Costello wrote in an email to FreightWaves. “In fact, almost forty percent of truckload carriers reported to ATA that increases in pay last year resulted in drivers choosing to drive less, make the same amount of money and be home more often.”
Meanwhile, Costello wrote in his email to FreightWaves that high turnover rates represent “the free agency of trucking and the ultimate worker empowerment.”
And in another great article, which examines the current state of a bill I have written extensively about, The Guaranteeing Overtime for Truckers Act, FreightWaves correspondent John Gallagher investigates the hurdles facing the GOT Act, and finds even more cringe statements, this time from former FMCSA acting administrator turned consultant (gotta love that lobbying + regulating revolving door!) Jim Mullen -
“But as far as eliminating the exemption under the FLSA for interstate trucking, it’s a good concept in theory. In practice, it would create a rather large shift for both drivers and carriers in how they look at the labor force.”
What in the heck does this statement actually mean? Anything? Is this what happens when you’ve spent your life as a pencil neck bureaucrat, raking in a 6 figure salary to sniff your own farts?
And more nonsense from the ATA -
Instead, the threat of wage and hour litigation “will inevitably force employers to manage driver workloads with a focus on limiting liability and economic downside rather than on safety, efficiency, and levels of service for freight customers,” ATA contends. “Such a change would limit trucking capacity nationwide, drive up freight costs, slow the movement of goods, and threaten highway safety.”
There is so much to unpack here, but I will try and keep it brief, and to the point.
“In fact, almost forty percent of truckload carriers reported to ATA that increases in pay last year resulted in drivers choosing to drive less, make the same amount of money and be home more often.”
According to the ATA, if you pay drivers more money, they might choose to work less.
Well, given that truckers spend 60-70 hours plus a week on the road, and OTR drivers will often spend weeks away from home without seeing their families, without taking part in anything their communities are doing, or without pursuing any other interest or life improvement, is it no surprise that they might make this calculation?
What is even more infuriating about this statement, and shows the deep disconnect from reality that infects these people’s minds, is that the ATA has done absolutely NOTHING to address Driver Detention, the bane of every truckers existence, and recently listed as the number four concern of truck drivers by the American Trucking Research Institute.
What do you know, driver detention also increases the likelihood of truck accidents and costs drivers a billion a year in lost pay, as shown in the FreightWaves article above -
Drivers also ranked detention/delay at customer facilities among their top concerns. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimated in 2018 that time lost waiting to pick up and drop off freight costs commercial truck drivers over $1 billion in annual pay.
And guess what other effects are caused by all of those trucks sitting at docks, where drivers are unpaid, and these assets are not being utilized?
Supply chain disruption! - from MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics -
His analysis of about 4,000 over-the-road drivers' working hours between 2016 and 2019 and interviews with drivers and other industry professionals indicate that truck drivers spend an average of six-and-a-half hours per day on the road, well below the 11 per day they are legally allowed. Drivers lose much of that remaining time to detention at warehouses. For instance, a driver may have an appointment to unload their truck in the morning, only to arrive and be told they can't be seen for several hours, forcing them to wait in the parking lot — frequently without pay. Additionally, drivers often face less-than-hospitable treatment from warehouse management, even being forbidden from using the restrooms.
This underutilization of U.S. truck drivers has amounted to what Correll calls a "misdiagnosis" of the recent supply chain snarls, commonly referred to as a "driver shortage." In November, Correll testified at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing, explaining, "My research leads me to see the current situation not as a headcount shortage of drivers, but rather an endemic undervaluing of our American truck drivers' time." As a result, he said, "Forty percent of America's trucking capacity is left on the table every day."
FORTY PERCENT OF AMERICA’S TRUCKING FLEET SITS EVERY DAMN DAY and the American Trucking Association would have you believe that paying drivers what they should be paid is the problem!
Over and above this nimrod ‘Economist’ Bob Costello believing it is OK for drivers to waste decades of their lives sitting at shippers facilities, rather than having time at home, he also thinks that Driver Turnover means that truckers have ‘agency’.
Yeah, agency to go from shitty job to shittier job, due to the effects of the ATA Oligopoly on the rest of the industry, from artificially lowering the wage floor for every trucker in America, to undercutting competitors through not charging for delay time, such that basically no one else can charge for it either, thus creating a perpetual cycle of wasted time and depressed wages.
What we have here is a classic version of Corporatism, where the ATA works with the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) to make regulations which favor their members, and then the ATA pays off politicians to vote against legislation which might benefit truckers, such as the Guaranteeing Overtime for Truckers Act, which is basically a one line bill which seeks to give truckers overtime parity with every other worker in America.
Speaking of that bill, yesterday was midterms, and the much promoted ‘Red Wave’ failed to materialize.
I myself was caught up in hopes for this Red Wave, as I wanted the Democrats punished for their support of The Covid Regime. (more on that another time)
One has to wonder if The Republican failure to make any offer towards Blue Collar working people like me had something to do with their underperformance.
It seems to me that the GOT Act was good politics for Team Red, and I said as much in this article for Newsweek back in June, this article in The American Conservative last month, and also attempted to signal this to certain Republicans on Twitter back in September - all to no avail.
I would advise any Republicans, or their supporters, to take what I’m saying here to heart, and to also follow the advice of my Twitter pal Bog Beef, who usually never misses.
The Republicans could have had every Trucker in America locked up for a generation had they made noise in supporting the GOT Act and helped to RETVRN being a truck driver to the much better paid and much better respected job it once was.
This famous supporter of Richard Nixon was key to past Republican Victories, and a little lesson in history seems appropriate today.
If you are a journalist, podcaster, reporter, dispatcher, freight nerd, supply chain specialist, driver recruiter, or a Republican, I have one thing to tell you -
The American Trucking Association are fucking scum, and the sooner that you all understand this, and ostracize them for good, the better off America will be.