By Clarissa Kell-Holland
A simple request to use the restroom at a food packaging plant recently led to one trucker being asked to drop his trailer at the dock and leave the premises.
Erwin Page of Owen, WI, told Land Line he arrived around 4 a.m. on Sept. 16 at the Ring Container Technologies food packaging facility in St. Joseph, MO. He backed up to the dock and went to bed for a few hours. Around 8:30 a.m., he said he went inside the facility and asked an office employee if he could use the bathroom.
Page said that’s “when everything went bad.”
“I was told that drivers weren’t allowed inside to use the facilities, but I explained that there weren’t any porta-potties or anything outside for drivers to use either,” he said. “I was told to just go back outside and pee behind my trailer by the dock, like everybody else does.”
Eventually, Page said, he was allowed to use the restroom in the office after he asked to speak to the higher-ups about the company’s policy.
“I called my dispatcher immediately and let her know there could be a problem and explained what had happened – that I politely asked to use the facilities and was told no at first,” he said. “I didn’t get irate or threaten anyone or anything like that, but I did want to ask the chain of command why they had this policy.”
Nevertheless, not long after the incident Page received a phone call back from his dispatcher. She said the facility had called the motor carrier, and said he was “no longer welcome” at Ring’s facility.
Another driver had to pick up Page’s trailer and deliver it to him at a nearby truck stop.
While Page doesn’t expect shippers and receivers to provide lavish accommodations, he said it would be nice to at least “have something.”
“I don’t think it’s very sanitary to ask drivers to pee behind their trailers by the dock,” he said. “Talk about contamination issues – that’s a big one.”
Paul G. Miller, director of quality improvement for Ring Container Technologies in Oakland, TN, provided Land Line a statement on Sept. 23 about the corporate policy regarding drivers.
“It is our written policy that truck operators are restricted to the immediate area of the door through which they enter and that provides access to the trailer dock exterior,” Miller wrote.
“All other entryways are locked and secured. Truck operators are permitted to enter through an unlocked door; however, the area is secured with an inner, fenced separator. There is a signaling device that is used to notify plant personnel that a truck operator has entered.”
Miller added that it isn’t Ring’s policy to instruct truck operators to “relieve themselves out by their truck” and in an urgent situation will allow drivers to use the restrooms inside.
However, according to Miller, “operators who persist in this practice will not be permitted access to the facility.”
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association recently provided comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register about the implementation of the Sanitary Food Transportation Act of 2005.
The act requires the agency to implement regulations that mandate sanitary practices for shippers, receivers, carriers and others involved in food transportation to help eliminate or reduce the likelihood of contamination or adulteration of food products.
Miller said Ring and the food packaging manufacturing industry at large are “not regulated by the FDA, the Department of Homeland Security or the USDA.”
“The implementation of (good manufacturing practices), food safety, food security and food defense practices are done on a wholly voluntary basis, upon good business practices and customers’ expectations,” Miller wrote in the statement.
OOIDA’s Director of Regulatory Affairs Joe Rajkovacz told Land Line that Ring’s policy toward drivers who haul their freight just isn’t humane.
“Ring’s defense of a policy that dehumanizes drivers is that nobody regulates them,” he said.
Three-fourths of drivers who responded to a survey by the OOIDA Foundation indicated that the lack of access to facilities or unsanitary conditions are real concerns for them.
For Page, he said it was an ordeal he won’t soon forget.
“Nobody wants us around, but they want us to haul their freight,” he said. “It’s like drivers being treated like dogs.”
Publicity over Page’s situation prompted another round of follow-up from Ring.
As of press time, Page told Land Line he had been invited back to the St. Joseph facility to attend a meeting with Ring President Ben Livingston, who was flying in to discuss access to restroom facilities at their 19 locations. Page was told by his dispatcher that he would be “leaving with his load this time.” LL