Safety first…
unless there’s a load – then a cup of coffee and some fresh air ‘should’ suffice

By Wendy Parker, special to Land Line

Editor’s note: The video pictured has been making the viral rounds in the trucking community for a couple of months now. It’s almost impossible to watch it and not get fired up over the way the driver is treated.

It left people wanting to know more about the situation and even stirred up some debate. Wendy Parker, wife of OOIDA Member George Parker, waded into the thick of it and went straight to the source – Abe Aattallah. She highlights the overarching message that everyone should be grabbing onto. With apologies to the late Paul Harvey, here is Wendy’s telling of the rest of the story and some pointed words for those who want to detract from the bigger point.

Abe Aattallah got his CDL in May of 2010 and went to work for Werner, where he became an owner-operator. Mechanical problems with a new truck forced him out of the owner-operator business, and he went to work for K&B Transport out of South Sioux City, Neb., in May 2013 as a company driver.

There was an appeal to going from a mega-carrier like Werner to a smaller company like K&B. He had hoped there would be a more personal relationship with the company, since they had a comparatively small fleet of trucks on the road.

He describes his experience for the past 10 months as “forced dispatch, being unable to decline a load without threats of losing my job.” He states he repeatedly told dispatch he had a difficult time transitioning when his 10-hour breaks were stacked, and he was ignored.

A lot of people are going to focus on what should have been done to avoid the situation and miss the most important thing here. It doesn’t matter if he should have declined the load, or whatever anyone else reading the article would have done. None of those things matter because they didn’t happen.

What did happen is a driver called in to dispatch and told them that he was unsafe to drive, that he was falling asleep at the wheel and needed to rest. In turn he was threatened and belittled by someone who gets to go home to sleep in his own bed every night.

Would they have acted different had he been vomiting uncontrollably?

He had the foresight to record the conversation with dispatch. Abe says he immediately forwarded the video to his safety department, namely Tyler Woods, before he ever made the video public. He was told the situation would be “dealt with,” but when he called dispatch the next night about a trailer tire, the original dispatcher he spoke with the night before answered and called him “Mr. Sleepy.” It was then he decided to make the video public.

In the interest of fairness, I spoke with Mr. Woods before writing this piece. He was extremely polite and told me K&B Transportation had no comment at this time. I did not pursue trying to speak with the dispatcher who referred to Abe as “Mr. Sleepy,” as I assumed he would fall under the same “no comment” as Mr. Woods did.

After the load was removed and Abe was “allowed” his two-hour nap, it bears noting that someone from K&B had the Gary, Ind., police department go out to wake Abe up for a “wellness check.” According to Abe, the officer who beat on the door stated his company had been trying to get in touch with him for hours and were concerned. It had been 45 minutes since he had last spoken to dispatch.

I spoke with the Gary Police Department public information officer, who was unable to confirm if the actual words “trying to get in touch with him for hours” were used, but a Freedom of Information Act request has been filed for a copy of the original report.

Just because the Qualcomm says the driver has hours available doesn’t mean he or she is safe to drive. Once again we go back to allowing  professionals – to make a choice, based on their experience and knowledge, as opposed to an all-encompassing hours rule. These are human beings, with varied and distinct sleep patterns, who can’t be grouped as a collective when it comes to rest.

***

Since this video first aired, I wondered about Abe several times. I had heard through the grapevine he was no longer driving, which didn’t surprise me much, so I reached out and asked. I was surprised by what he had to tell me about his final days with K&B.

After the article ran on the Land Line website, the owner of K&B, Kory Ackerman, had a personal sit-down with Abe. According to Abe, he was decent and apologetic. He never mentioned the article specifically, but did note that he was aware the media had been involved. He stated the dispatchers who were in question would be reprimanded and asked Abe to continue working for him. Abe agreed and felt like Mr. Ackerman was truly concerned about the situation, so he went back on the road for K&B. He said things went well for about a week, but questions regarding a relay load and yet another night dispatcher with an attitude made him realize he needed to seek other employment.

“It might just have been paranoia on my part, because of the video and everything that happened with the article, but I felt like I had a target on my back.”

Abe went back to turning wrenches. He was an auto mechanic before he got his CDL. Like many of the drivers on the road today, when the economy went bad in his hometown area of Detroit, he turned to the road for work.

“I’ve thought about going back on the road with another company, but I realize it’s probably the same story with any of the big ones. I think it’s just best if I stay away from it.”

Besides that, he’s happy now.

“The economy has picked up, the mechanic business is booming, and I’m much happier.” LL

Editor’s note: Wendy Parker rides shotgun with husband George, who is an owner-operator hauling for Landstar. As a non-driver, her observations of the trucking industry range from hilarious to shocking and can be found on their blog, The George and Wendy Show, three times a week: thegeorgeandwendyshow.weebly.com/blog---notes-on-trucking.html