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Cleaning up “our” house

In the November issue of Land Line, Ray Kasicki’s regular column “Trucker to Trucker” offered some criticism of the event known to the industry as Drivers Appreciation Week. Ray’s viewpoint is that the sponsors of this week make a big deal of saying how much America’s truckers mean to the nation, but all the words and proclamations that happen during this week do little to make drivers really feel appreciated.

Last week, I received a good letter from Rex Privette, an OOIDA member from Medaryville, IN. After reading Ray’s column, Rex came to a couple of conclusions that he shared with me. Here’s part of Rex’s letter.

“First, Ray Kasicki is absolutely right. Every point he discusses presents a valid argument toward the cynical title of the piece. Indeed, there are many, many more examples to illustrate his position. It is, however, the second conclusion which disturbs me most.

There is, apparently, no way to solve the problem. Mr. Kasicki offers no solutions. Nor have I heard of anybody else who has a plan for dealing with the issues mentioned. He, like all the others, just perpetuate the whine. To be fair, that’s really all that can be expected.

Our profession lacks the moral character we once had as evidenced by those who brag about cheating on their wives, tell tall tales about how they screwed somebody out of something or seek drugs and/or “commercial company” on the CB – all the vulgar language and threats notwithstanding. Too many drivers lack the professionalism we once had as demonstrated by the total lack of personal hygiene and dirty, grease-stained disheveled clothes I see drivers wearing at customers’ docks – ratty looking, dirty trucks and spiteful driving practices notwithstanding. With the likes of these drivers, why should we expect any appreciation?

We’ve got to clean up our own house before we can go pointing fingers at somebody else’s shortcomings. Oh, I hear all the talk about how we should do this, that, or the other – but words are cheap. Don’t waste ink on “what is.” I want to know what we’re going to do about it. I want somebody to determine a goal and set forth a viable plan to accomplish the goal.”

First of all, I want to thank Rex Privette for his very insightful comments. We at OOIDA, as well as the vast majority of our other members, share in your frustration over what is happening within the industry. There are solutions, but in order to begin addressing those solutions it’s important to first focus on the real root cause of the problem.

How many times have you heard a frustrated driver complain about the demise of professionalism of truckers and conclude with “we must clean up our own house first.” This is a plea often heard. But there’s one thing wrong here. This is not our house. The House of Professional Truckers has become the house motor carriers built. The downhill slide in the quality and professionalism of drivers is not caused by drivers themselves. It’s caused by the recruiting and hiring practices of many of the industry’s motor carriers.

As motor carrier management – in their quest to find people willing to work for lower and lower wages – continually lower their hiring standards putting behind the wheel any warm body that comes along, can there really be any surprise about the quality of drivers filling those seats? Some carriers are now seeking permission to hire 18-year-olds and some are even recruiting parolees directly out of prison. Some of these people will be model citizens. Some won’t. Is it reasonable to expect that if the worst among them become truckdrivers (or steering wheel holders) they will clean up their act? Or that there is anything at all other truckers can do to influence their behavior? I don’t think so. Some at the fringe can be influenced by peer pressure, but the real “bottom rungers” won’t be influenced at all.

The real problem is the compounding nature of this activity, as these companies succeed in locating more and more sources from which to find people willing or forced by personal circumstances to work for lower wages. As they dream up new and innovative ways (some legal and some illegal) to generate profits, not from the freight rates they charge, but through further victimizing the drivers, they force down rates and compensation throughout the industry. This has caused huge numbers of good professional drivers, including many new recruits who would have become professionals, to leave the industry leaving the door open to the continued escalation of this downhill spiral.

The best solution would be re-regulation of the industry to eliminate the abusive practices and prevent predatory ratemaking. Since that isn’t likely to happen in the foreseeable future, the next best solution is to go after these companies (whose illegal activities victimize and degrade the entire industry) through the court systems and any other way possible. OOIDA is doing that through the lawsuits we have filed against some of the worst offenders. And we will be adding more as we continue to establish legal precedence.

Unfortunately, this is not a quick-fix solution. We didn’t get into this condition overnight or through just one cause and it won’t be easily fixed. The legal battles in some of these cases have been going on now for more than five years, but each new legal precedent we are able to establish moves the process into the next higher gear. (For more on our legal actions, a report on OOIDA’s fall board meeting appears on page 18 in this issue.)

As we accumulate hard-won successes through our legal battles, the benefits will accrue not only to those who were directly affected through refund of money inappropriately or illegally taken from them, but to the entire industry including company drivers, owner-operators and legitimate motor carriers by helping to again raise the bar of ethical business conduct and fair competition.

As we move into a new year overflowing with challenges, I am optimistic we will begin seeing even more important victories in the courts as well as in other important initiatives we have underway. The increasing numbers of professional truckers seeing the value of joining together and becoming members of OOIDA adds to my optimism because those increasing numbers are giving us the resources to greatly expand and increase our effectiveness.

The vast majority of truckers are people I am extremely proud to represent. No matter what we do there will always be some among us that through their actions or appearance tend to give the rest of us a bad name. With the likes of these drivers, Rex Privette asks why should “we” expect any appreciation. In my opinion, these drivers are still the minority among professional truckers. They are “thorns.” Their manners, their performance, their conduct or their attitude must not discredit the industry’s true professionals. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” The real professional drivers are entitled to not only appreciation, but more importantly the respect you so rightly deserve.

Best wishes to all of you for a Merry Christmas and a safe and more prosperous New Year.

Aug/Sept Digital Edition