Essential Carriers Not Essentially Equipped
Note: this post was originally written on May 4, 2020 and has not been updated since then.
For more than two and a half weeks (since May 1), protesting truckers have made their way down to the National Mall to protest for more accountability on behalf of their brokers. More carriers in the trucking industry have become more disgruntled with their strained relationships with their brokers, only proven to have worsened in the midst of economic downfall as a result of COVID-19. While many are Trump supporters, decked out in “Make America Great Again” hats and shirts, many feel robbed from the lack of regulation and oversight within their industry, making it easy for brokers to gauge prices, driving up costs for carriers having to ship items across land yet providing them no sort of relief or support in incurring costs of the expensive/hefty truck equipment that carriers are responsible for. Leo, a 19-year old native of Utica, New York, expressed his weariness with the relationship carriers have with brokers, “brokers write companies off… we do the work… drivers drive no matter what, day or night. it’s not easy to drive overnight… brokers take advantage of carriers, they don’t treat us right… you can’t really talk to them, they just take advantage of you.” At the same, time, he explained that he was not here in Washington to protest against Trump, but rather make sure the President is aware of his concerns. He adds, “Trump does appreciate truckers and I believe him, but I would want him to do something to improve it”.
With the first confirmed cases of the novel Coronavirus surfacing in the U.S., truckers were some of the first to feel the hard hit. As supply of freight dwindled, so did the price of carrying it. Although demand for certain supplies is skyrocketing (i.e. medical supplies and equipment needing to be carried cross-country to reach hard-to-hit hospitals and health centers), demand for most other products and services have reached a standstill. While truckers like Leo did not receive a targeted financial support package from the government, they are still expected to drive across the country, continuing to ship even as they begin to pay out of pocket for shipping. This seems blasphemous- these essential workers who are the very people responsible for our personal packages showing up at our doorstep; vital medical supplies being delivered to hospitals; and food supplies arriving to grocery stores- do not receive essential support. Another carrier, Nick, put it this way: “we are we are told we are frontlines, that we are essential workers, but we feel that this is not the way that essential workers should be treated.” Another friend chimed in adding that carriers don’t even receive so much as PPE from their employees or any other third-party- they’re responsible for buying their own masks and gloves.
It is no accident that out of all the actors in the trucking industry- shippers, brokers, and carriers- carriers are the most heavily regulate in the industry.
If, for example, a carrier refuses to accept price put out by the broker, they jeopardize other risks they’ve been required to take on as a part of the job; if they’re offered to receive $500 for driving 500 miles, let’s say, and they refuse, they incur other costs like still having to pay off the loan for their truck (often worth hundreds of thousands of dollars), trailer. If they refuse a load even for such a low price, brokers threaten to force dispatch carriers for not taking the loads. This is exactly what happened to Hector. Except in his case “they didn’t threaten [him], they just took the truck” (Hector). Hector explained how just like other depreciated vehicles, the more a truck sits at home, the more costs it concurs. That’s one reason why these carriers are still out on the road. Hector explained, ”we get pennies on the dollar for each shipment.”
Unfortunately for truckers like Hector, Leo, Nick, and hundreds more who showed up at the protest, they have had little to no success with taking out Paycheck Protection Program loans. Historically, those who arguably work the hardest in the trucking, carriers, receive the least representation within the industry. This dates back to the Reagan administration, with deregulation on various industries which did not exclude transportation of goods. One of the largest associations in trucking, the American Trucking Association (ATA), has rarely vouched on behalf of carriers themselves, leaving the power to brokers to set transportation prices for carriers to take. The alternative? By denying brokers’ offers, carriers have no alternative and end up being forced to take horrendously low prices for fear of the alternative-being dispatched.
On a larger more global level, the world is in a state of panic. If supply chain access were to completely stop, that panic rises. Carriers are the most important industry to protect right now given the weight they hold in delivering supplies where they’re needed in a time when timing is of the essence.