We are continuing our discussion about the myth of Federal unemployment benefits being the reason companies cannot find low wage workers. This installment will round out trucking and move on to food services.
Last time I told you about my burning out on IT and getting a CDL. I told you I left $75/hr consulting to drive for 10.5 cents per mile and I told you my experiences there. I started to tell you about tankers and how it is a high injury high risk occupation. Dragging those heavy hoses around on slick gas station (or other) parking lots while assholes are pulling in talking on their phone is just a career ending injury waiting to happen.
Why is there a driver shortage?
Word got ’round
My experience is not unique. Every driver for every big fleet is told to carry some of the driver application forms or other such thing and told to pass them along to any driver they run into at a truck stop who is bitching about his current employer. The driver who handed the form (and filled in the referral section) usually gets $25 or some other kind of bonus for every one that actually applies. Fleets know they treat their people like shit and they rely on the fact a new experienced driver will usually give them six months of driving while being treated like shit before moving on.
Next time you are on the Interstate for a long trip, take note of how many trucks have a big “Come drive for us” type sticker on the back of the trailer. Every fleet has them. Seemingly everyone not currently in trucking has heard how horribly drivers get treated. My meat puppet experience was not unique. Those who leave talk about it.
Driving schools have been closed for about a year
There is no way you can “remote learn” to drive a truck. You have to be in the cab with a seasoned driver breathing each other’s air. There is no possibility of social distancing.
I told you that during orientation the company I was starting at stated roughly 50% of us would quit before testing out. They had orientation classes most every week. They had a business model where every week they would lose at least 50% of the new recruits and another 10%-30% of existing drivers. Some drivers went to another company and some left the industry.
One seasoned driver I rode in the van with left his company because his wife-to-be was coming home on leave from military deployment in the war zone to get married in Georgia. He had informed his company he needed to be in Georgia for a week and what week it was. His dispatcher kept sending him into California. He parked the truck in a yard his company owned, checked it in, bought a bus ticket, and got married. He then went to work for this company. I seem to remember former company tried to tag him with load abandonment but the truck was empty and checked into one of their fenced in lots so, yeah, they were just being an ass about things.
When you are in the habit of treating people like this, you have to expect an annual turnover rate of more than 50%. When the schools close and there is no fresh meat for the grinder, you are going to go out of business unless you treat people better. They always want to talk about the pay in the news articles, never about the meat puppet culture.
The bottom moved higher
All of these things are interrelated. You won’t understand much of this reason until we speak about food services. You can understand some now though. Minimum wage was increased in a lot of states. Some jobs pay as good or better than truck driving and let you sleep in your own bed every night. If you don’t shower every day it’s because you were either too lazy or needed better parenting.
The DOT physical
Every so often you have to submit to a DOT physical. This is a standard turn-your-head-and-cough physical where they make you do some squat thrusts and other physical moves to test your range of motion. You take a hearing test and a pee test. The pee test checks for drug usage and your glucose. If you have diabetes you cannot be on insulin and drive commercially. You can be on oral meds if you get certification from your doctor that your diabetes is under control. Same thing for blood pressure. If you can’t pass the vision test you are just plain screwed. I don’t know if you are allowed to have a hearing aid or not.
The drug test is nabbing many now. They only care about alcohol if the pee test shows you are CDL legally drunk. (That is half of the legal limit for a driver in a car.) Marijuana may be legal in many states, but if it shows up in your pee test, that’s it, you’re done. When you fail your drug test you don’t get a medical card and you cannot legally drive for hire.
That Canada thing
Trucking companies were always desperate for drivers with a clean driving record and possibly a passport so they could be sent into Canada. The story about Canada is one of those “it can’t be real” tales, but I ran into drivers that had it happen.
Divorce in the trucking industry is exponentially high. Driver income fluctuates, some child support or alimony payments get missed or severely delayed. You already know just how little they were making back when I signed up so you know there wasn’t much for legal fees or left to share.
The story of Canada was they would let the driver and load in, but when he (it was almost always a he) tried to get back into America they would run some kind of court database check. If your ex filed whatever it is a spousal unit files with the court to claim you are a deadbeat dad or just owe them money and it turned up during that check, you got to stay in Canada. Maybe your company could find you loads to drive locally so you could earn enough to pay the debt off, maybe not.
When I drove we all signed up for this $7/week paycheck deduction for some kind of “legal defense fund.” The primary role of this legal thing was to front the money. They had lawyers who could clear up legal matters like this, usually after fronting the cash, so you could get back into America. Rumor was they could also pay the fines and keep many tickets off your driving record.
Before you think that some horrible thing you need to understand this was many years ago (though probably still true today.) Our trucks were governor limited to 62 MPH until you had ran at that speed for some programmed amount of time and then you could bump the cruise control again to get up to 67 MPH. You could only use cruise control on the Interstate. This was back when split-speed in many states capped truck speed to 60 MPH.
One must also keep in mind there was a Qualcomm unit wired into the truck that kept GPS location and lots of other truck information and periodically transmitted it back to the company. If you were continually driving 15-20 over the limit on city streets you weren’t going to be employed very long. I know one other driver paid the money because he was divorced and had a driver friend who actually to trapped in Canada or so he told me. I just paid the money because $7 to have a lawyer come help you out if you had a wreck or some other trouble seemed pretty cheap. Admittedly I was making the assumption I was getting at least the A-team or B-team lawyer. For that price it was probably the D- student though.
What is amazing is that I still hear this story from time to time today. Whether it is true or not it has a life of its own.
Continued in Part 3.