Truckers, auto workers nervous as diesel, gas prices soar

| 3/18/2008

The cost for a gallon of diesel had risen to the $4 mark or above in 23 states as of Tuesday, March 18, according to ProMiles. Truckers continue to watch as prices shatter record highs, and auto workers are also cautiously watching fuel prices as the cost of gasoline inches closer to the $4 mark.

While many truckers are dipping into their reserves to keep their businesses afloat, UAW Local 249 President Jim Stouffer, who represents more than 4,200 workers at the Ford Motor Co. plant in Claycomo, MO, admits he’s worried about how the automotive industry will fare if gas prices hit $4 per gallon.

“With the price going up more each day it scares us that there’s going to be a time when it’s going to hit $4 a gallon – and then what are we going to do?” Stouffer told Land Line on Monday, March 17. “Are we going to lose a shift here, or what’s going to happen? We really don’t know.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Monday that the national average for diesel was $3.974, and it is also forecasting that the monthly pump price for gasoline will peak at $3.48 a gallon this spring on a nationwide basis. The agency is also predicting that gasoline may top $4 in some regions of the country.

Stouffer said he sympathizes with truckers who are already paying record-high prices at the pump for diesel. He said sales of the F-150, which is made at the Claycomo plant, are already down because of high gas prices. Skyrocketing diesel prices are affecting his industry, too, he said, because fewer people are buying new trucks with diesel engines because of the “astounding” prices for diesel, which for decades were lower than unleaded gasoline.

“Obviously, our Ford plant in Kentucky that builds the heavy-duty trucks is struggling,” Stouffer said. “Sales are down. With the price of diesel fuel so high, people are trying to buy the old ones and use them and not buy a new truck and have that payment. Unfortunately, it’s going to get harder – much worse – before it gets better.”

In about six months, Stouffer said, the Claycomo plant will feature a diesel engine in the F-150 for the 2009 model year.

He said it seems everyone who relies on oil is “getting totally screwed” right now, except the oil industry.

“I don’t think our government at any level has really taken on what needs to be done to try and corral some of the costs,” Stouffer said. “It should be criminal that Exxon is making record profits … at the expense of the consumer. The consumer is the ultimate person that pays, and everybody in between suffers.”

OOIDA is encouraging its members to contact their lawmakers regarding these record-high prices. Stouffer said his industry is encouraging their members to do so as well.

“We don’t have a textbook solution either on how to deal with these high prices other than telling the politicians to get off their butts and take care of the people like they’re supposed to because that’s what it’s all about – the people.”

Stouffer also agrees with OOIDA’s position that the Bush administration should immediately cease the diversion of oil supplies to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and instead allow the product to directly enter the marketplace.

“He (Bush) could do that tomorrow and divert that out to the public so that it could help consumers now, but politics is everything,” Stouffer said. “These politicians, from the bottom to the top, bend over for the big corporations and take money from them and then forget why they’re there. They are supposed to be there to help the people of this country that work for a living, and they’re not doing that.”

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer