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Open letter to trucking industry management

Jim Johnston
President OOIDA

The month of June 2003 has been designated by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) board of directors and membership as National Truck Safety Month. This OOIDA-sponsored effort is being organized for the purpose of addressing a very serious, longstanding and growing industry safety concern.

The most serious safety concern shared among professional truckers, both employee drivers and owner-operators, is the ever-growing pressures, demands and expectations for unreasonable performance output. While these pressures and demands come in many forms, some very subtle in nature, they can be classified into two distinct categories.

First are direct pressures and demands that come from shippers, receivers, brokers and motor carrier management to meet unreasonable or impractical pickup and delivery schedules. Truckers are expected to perform at superhuman levels with the bottom line being: Get the load picked up and delivered on time regardless of the possible consequences or what the regulations might dictate, or else …

Next and perhaps the most significant factor is the economic pressure faced by professional drivers. Unbridled competition, greed and a willingness by many to sacrifice the interest of professional drivers for profitability or their own economic survival has resulted in depressing compensation to far less than acceptable levels. This, coupled with the outrageous number of hours drivers are forced to contribute without compensation at shipping and receiving points, creates enormous pressure on drivers to push and even exceed their limits.

In a statement March 17, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, citing figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, announced that work losses due to work-related injuries were down overall, but that truckdrivers, among some other categories of workers, were bucking the trend. Chao stated that truckdrivers continue to suffer high rates of injuries and illness in their workplace and that, in addition, the death rate among truckdrivers is higher than in any other profession.

“We must find ways to reduce the hazards and make their workplace safer and healthier,” Chao said.

The fact is that hundreds of professional truckdrivers die every year in highway accidents, and many others are injured or killed in other work-related accidents. For professional drivers, there is no secret to some of the primary factors influencing this hazardous working environment. Fatigue, inadequate and disrupted sleep, and the toll of stress from low pay and long hours are without a doubt major contributing factors.

It is also obvious to professional drivers that revisions to the hours-of-service regulations will not cure the problem any more than existing regulations have been able to prevent it from progressively growing more severe. Industry culture and, in fact, much of the industry’s economic structure has evolved around the ability to push drivers to limits that would not be tolerated in any other occupation. In this environment, hours-of-service regulations have become a bad joke.

In many cases, motor carrier management will knowingly instruct drivers to falsify their logbooks, telling them, for example, to show only a half hour for loading or unloading even though the process may take many hours. Many instruct drivers on how many miles they should average on their logs despite ever-growing congestion problems that may slow their travel. In many cases, drivers willingly falsify their logs as a means of economic survival or out of legitimate concern over the retribution that will befall them if they fail to perform as expected. When the inevitable happens, it is the driver who suffers the possible career-ending (or worse) consequences. Management will produce its safety policy documents and disavow the irresponsible conduct of the driver.

Drivers know from experience that individually, they are powerless to change this misguided culture and correct the problem. They are told, “If you can’t do the job, we’ll find someone who can.” Persistence on the part of the driver will likely result in termination and perhaps even a career-ending DAC report - “failure to comply with company policy” or “not eligible for rehire.”

June Safety Month is an effort to gain the collective participation of all or a majority of professional drivers in addressing, calling attention to and initiating solutions to this very serious safety problem. We are asking for the endorsement, support and participation of all motor carriers and their associations who are truly interested in improving the industry’s safety performance. It is time for responsible individuals and companies to take a stand and bring an end to this deplorable culture of forced noncompliance.

We are also certain there will be some who will continue their practice of condoning, intimidating or coercing drivers into violating the regulations. We are asking drivers and owner-operators to contact us in the event they are subjected to any such activity. It is our intention to aggressively pursue whatever actions are appropriate to address and remedy this type of conduct, including regulatory enforcement and litigation where appropriate.

I hope we will be able to count on your support. Together, we can begin to address this problem and at least slow, if not turn around, this industry’s perpetual race to the bottom.

Sincerely,

Jim Johnston, President

Editor’s note: This letter was sent to more than 20,000 motor carriers and their associations.

March/April
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