Doing the right thing pays off for produce hauler

| 11/28/2007

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but produce hauler and OOIDA member Michael Yeagle couldn’t turn a blind eye and notreport the unsanitary conditions he witnessed recently at a produce loading dock.

He said he just didn’t know who to call or how to go about reporting the unsafe conditions he observed at the Guadalupe Cooling Company in Guadalupe, CA, as he watched a worker drive a forklift through raw sewage. The forklift contaminated his trailer eight separate times while loading pallets of broccoli on Saturday, Nov. 24.

The wastewater was from an overflowing toilet in one of the restrooms and draining onto the dock’s concrete floor. The other restroom at the dock contained piles of used toilet paper and human waste, which Yeagle said was also being tracked onto the dock, potentially contaminating his trailer and hundreds of others that were loaded with produce during the two days the restroom facilities were unattended.

When he reported the situation to the shipping clerk on duty, he was told, “Do you want to get loaded or not? Driver, go stand by your door and count your freight.”

Yeagle said he thought about waiting around and calling the county health department, but assumed that the offices were closed because of the holiday weekend.

During the past 24 hours, Land Line staff left three voicemail messages for the San Luis Obispo County Health Department Supervisor’s office requesting to talk about the situation at the Guadalupe Cooling facility. Those calls have not been returned.

On Wednesday, Nov. 28, after driving cross-country, Yeagle shared his story and his photographs with his buyer, who then refused the pallets of broccoli from Guadalupe Cooling, but still paid Yeagle for the load.

“They didn’t even want this product on their docks,” he said. “I drove over to a dry warehouse, and they pulled off the stuff from Guadalupe Cooling. It’s going into a Dumpster.”

Yeagle said even if he had called on Saturday, when the incident occurred, the buyer admits that no one was in the office to answer the phones. However, “they were very appreciative that this was brought to their attention, and the buyer is now going to take up the problem with the cooler.”

“I have been hauling produce into this place for a long time, and you get to know people and get to know what they will and won’t do,” he told Land Line Wednesday after delivering his load. “This buyer is so particular about what they will accept that I knew they would do the right thing.”

Some drivers have questioned whether Yeagle should have allowed the product to be loaded onto his trailer, but OOIDA Regulatory Affairs Specialist Joe Rajkovacz, a former produce hauler with more than 20 years’ experience, said he is aware of the treatment that Yeagle and other drivers who haul food products face on a daily basis.

“The driver did all he could here,” he said. “These conditions at shippers and receivers are all too common. Until regulations are put in place to empower drivers when situations like this occur, there is little left for a driver to do but fall on his own sword and cut his own throat economically and still the conditions don’t change.”

Rajkovacz said economic coercion to comply with unreasonable demands is a powerful weapon to gain silence from drivers – a truth he said he knows all too well. Rajkovacz is plaintiff in OOIDA’s lumping lawsuit against SuperValu, which addresses treatment of drivers on the company’s docks.

“When my motor carrier became aware that I was a plaintiff in the SuperValu case, my revenues took a dramatic hit,” he said. “The outcome here for Mike was good. He had a good relationship with his buyer and he knew they would do the right thing. That says a lot for his buyer. They backed him up and didn’t want to risk making people sick for their own economic gain; they did the right thing.”

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer