(Not) Truckin’

A couple weeks ago, I gave a ride to a guy in the trucking business — he was the Area VP of Operations of a large firm — and he told me that they can’t find drivers to handle just the local deliveries (stores, restaurants etc), never mind the long haul stuff.  And this in an area where a driver gets a starting salary of $60,000 plus serious benefits, after company-sponsored training and licensing.  As I recall, he said they need about 1,800 drivers, and so far had managed to get… 40 (forty).

That, folks, is a serious labor shortage, and his company isn’t the only one with this problem.

Shipping costs have skyrocketed in the United States in 2018, one of the clearest signs yet of a strong economy that might be starting to overheat. Higher transportation costs are beginning to cause prices of anything that spends time on a truck to rise. Amazon, for example, just implemented a 20 percent hike for its Prime program that delivers goods to customers in two days, and General Mills, the maker of Cheerios and Betty Crocker, said prices of some of its cereals and snacks are going up because of an “unprecedented” rise in freight costs. Tyson Foods, a large meat seller, and John Deere, a farm and construction equipment, also recently announced they will increase prices, blaming higher shipping costs.

And here, in a nutshell, is why the illegal immigrants keep flooding over the border.  Business owners (not just truckers) are facing a series of rock/hard place situations, and foreign-born workers (mostly illegal) are in many cases the only solution.  I don’t agree with what they’re doing in principle, but as a former employer myself, I can understand their actions.  Stuff’s gotta move, and nobody’s interested in the “how”.

13 comments

  1. Meanwhile a sizable percentage of the population still collects welfare because they can’t find work.

    First get rid of the welfare state – then I’ll listen to an immigration debate.

    1. And ditch the whole “college for everyone” and Affirmative Action scams. I *work* in a college, and a disturbingly large percentage of the students here shouldn’t have graduated from elementary school.

      Vocational training would be better, and cheaper, for a huge number of people who are wasting time (everyone’s) and money (usually the taxpayers’) in extended day-care.

      Bah.

      1. I second that. I also ‘work’ in a world-renowned University. The tuition fees for international students exceed £19500 – a year. The amount of freeloading , lazy arsed, thick, ignorant, entitled, do-gooding toss pots there are passing off Disney Degrees as being vital in the real world of work, beggars belief. And the students are just as bad! May they choke on their collective ‘LBGTQ+ Friendly’ lanyards.

        A pox on the lot of them, I’m outta there come next Friday.

  2. Truck drivers starting at $60k?

    Yeah, call me skeptical of that. I don’t doubt that there might be a few trucking firms or in-house positions where a very experienced driver might be making $60k (but then again he might also be working 60+hr weeks or whatever the maximum the DOT allows.)

    From what I’ve read posted by actual truck drivers the life of most drivers is pretty dismal. Pay and benefits are on the low end and working conditions are pretty uniformly awful.

    Even worse, the days of the trucker being “his own boss” once he hits the road are long gone: The proliferation of satellite tracking and cell phone communications systems now means that every driver has a desk-bound boss/dispatcher looking over his shoulder pretty much 24/7 and if drivers dare to make a stop to rest, or to avoid bad weather, they get threatened with being fired, i.e. “if you can’t get that load delivered by tomorrow I’ll find someone who can.”

    I used to think that the trucks that had big signs on them that advertised for drivers must have given the current drivers pretty good job security – after all, if the company was looking for drivers that badly they must want to hold on to the ones they have , right?

    But I read it wrong: The REAL message that is communicated to the driver is more like “You can be replaced easily and quickly, so you better toe the line.”

    IIRC Mike over at Cold Fury was a long-haul driver for quite a while. He can probably shed more light on what the trucker’s life is like but I’ve heard very few employed (as opposed to independent) drivers say they enjoy it much.

  3. Elaborating a bit on the above, let’s face it, Kim, there are some jobs that are just – shitty. There’s no getting around it.

    Yet, the jobs have to be done. So an employer who employs people to do shitty jobs has two choices: He can either (a) do what he can to try and make the job less shitty, or he can (b) pay people enough that they don’t mind the shitty work.

    People who employ illegals are trying to cut corners. They’re trying to have it both ways, they pay shitty pay for people to do shitty jobs, and they do it by hiring illegals who, unlike legal workers, don’t have as much choice in what they do and are usually desperate for work.

    But in doing so, of course, they are offloading the expenses of that illegal immigration onto us, the taxpayers, in the form of all the damage that illegal immigrants do to our country: Increased social services spending, increased crime, etc. Employers might think they are doing their US customers a favor by lowering labor costs, which allows them to sell their goods at cheaper prices, but we end up paying anyway for that cheap labor in other ways.

  4. Staff – well said!

    I’ve been to numerous job fairs where some (non-technical) educator would announce to parents that a fresh-from-school engineer starts off at $xx per year, usually some figure well into 6 figures. As a real engineer, uh, no. Starting salaries are nice, but it’ll take more than a few years experience in the typical engineer roles in order to work up to that pie in the sky figure they just announced.

    Still, there are lots of skilled trade jobs starting at ~$19/hr, which puts you in the neighborhood of $40k per year, more with overtime. And the potential to work up to the $60K value after a few years experience. Depending on where you live, that’s a decent middle class salary (South Texas in my case).

    And you are spot on with the comment on the illegals.

  5. There was a story on the local news recently about Union Pacific desperately looking for people and offering signing bonuses in the $20k range for some positions.

    Of course, when you look into the fine print what you’ll see is that the jobs they are hiring for are on-call jobs where the employee works an irregular schedule and is expected to be on call essentially 24/7. If the employee is told he needs to work he has ~ 1 hour from the time the call comes in to be at the place of employment.

    Now ask yourself, who is going to want that kind of job? You essentially have no free time because you are on a 1 hour “tether.” Forget anybody who has a family. I guess the employer expects the employee to just sit at home and play video games while waiting for a call, but that pretty much narrows your potential employees down to singe, non-dependent having, parents-basement-dwelling twentysomething’s. Nobody with a family will be able to work that job and nobody who has any real skills would be willing to put up with those kinds of job requirements.

    And yet they will pay a bonus. (rolling eyes) Hey, here’s an idea: Instead of paying bonuses, how about using that extra bonus money to boost the salary of the people you already have employed so they won’t call off work at the last minute or quit without notice when they find something better, which is the whole reason you need a pool of on-call employees in the first place?

    Or maybe use that money to hire someone with the organizational skills to run your operations without the need for such on-call employees?

    In essence, what I said above: Take your shitty jobs and figure a way to make them less shitty so they’ll be more attractive to employees.

  6. You think it’s bad finding drivers for boxes? Try finding drivers for hazardous liquids!

  7. None of you have mentioned regulations.

    Trucking is getting to be the most regulated industry we have.

    you have to keep a log book. Your day starts when the truck does and 14 hours later you are done for the day regardless of where you are.

    You have to get and maintain a nationwide drivers license. It is much harder to keep as well and if you get a ticket on your personal vehicle it counts against the CDL which is a nation wide license. Not state specific.

    You have the feds funding troopers to find drivers that are out side the lines. you wonder why that trooper you saw on the interstate did not seem to care about you they are looking for trucks. Fines start in the thousands and just go up.

    No, it is not free wheeling or fun.

    1. Yeah, the regulations put the squeeze on drivers both ways. Dispatchers hound drivers to make deliveries on time even though it might violate safety rules (speed limits and max hours) but if, God forbid, there is an accident, the company washes its hands of the driver because he was violating the rules (the same rules they encourage him to violate by offering bonuses for early deliveries or penalties for late ones.)

      Shitty working conditions like that pretty much guarantee that the only people willing to take on that job will be those who have no other options.

  8. Well, the adventure continues….

    I’m wondering if this isn’t another “symptoms vs disease” issue.
    OTR trucks are limited to 80K lbs gross weight (under some circumstances an overweight permit can be had to allow exceeding that by a small margin). Given the weight of the tractor (pulling truck) and trailer, that leaves about 45K available for payload (+/- about 5K lbs). MPG for the rig is about 6, and average medium distance speed is around 52 MPH, with long distance much slower because drivers can operate only in 14 hour increments, each motion increment separated by an 8 hour non-motion period.

    So, we’re moving freight in approx 40-45K lb increments, at 6 MPG which requires the (more or less) undivided attention of 1 human per delivery increment.

    Trains, on the other hand, work differently: a railroad freight car routinely carries 200-400K lbs of payload, there may be 50-100 freight cars per train, and a 100-car train requires fewer than 4 human staff per travel increment; given the inclusion of sleeping facilities, doubling that can mean uninterrupted motion between destinations.

    Trains, unfortunately, don’t deliver to final destinations, while trucks do, but they allow delivery of huge amounts of payload at small fractions of OTR truck costs to terminals that are usually, at worst, not more than a couple hundred miles from the final destination, and in most cases, much closer, and at approximately the same speed (or faster) as a cross-country truckload. A carload – 250-400K lbs – of Walmart freight rquires breaking down into store-sized increments, mandating involvement of multiple humans and supplemental equipment (fork lifts, pallet jacks, short-haul tractor-trailers, drivers, etc.), plus a certain amount of coordination for what each freight car contains.

    Which begs the question: Why do we want to haul 40,000 pounds of lettuce (or car parts or winter coats) 2,000 miles with a Kenworth instead of using Union Pacific or Pennsy? I realize we’ve allowed RR roadbeds to atrophy, and don’t have enough of them going exactly where we would prefer, but it would seem much easier to find drivers for 10-hour shifts within 100-200 miles of home than for cross country trips.

  9. Brother-in law was in the trucking industry, ended as a trainer. He stated the biggest hurdle to over come in finding new drivers is the drug test. Young people cant pass one.

  10. It’s not that “young people” in general can’t pass a drug test. It’s that the pool of potential employees from which your BIL’s company is drawing it’s applicant’s can’t.

    What’s that saying – “Pay peanuts, get monkeys.” It’s true in every part of the economy.

    Quality costs money. It’s funny that we accept that premise when it comes to buying an automobile or a firearm. We all believe that a SIG is superior to a Lorcin, or that a BMW is better than a Kia.

    But for some reason, when it comes to employees, that goes out the window. We hear employers complaining that “millennials/Gen Xers/Baby Boomers are just a bunch of spoiled brats who want top pay for poor work.”

    Well, no. What they want is to be paid commensurate to the value they’re bringing to your company. You want quality, you gotta pay for it.

    Getting back to the example above, if the only people applying for a job are druggies, then either you should stop recruiting from rehab clinics, or you should increase the salary to something that a “clean” driver would expect to be paid.

    I’m on a gun message board that has a “for sale” section and there is a FAQ on there that points out something that should be obvious: If your item has been up for sale for more than 4 weeks and you haven’t gotten a nibble – your price is too high.

    “But I paid $XXXX for it!” “But it was only produced for 2 years!” “But it was rated as ‘best in its class’ 4 times in a row!” Doesn’t matter. If it’s not selling, it’s because the price is too high, period, because no matter how much you “think” it’s worth, it’s only actually worth what someone will pay for it.

    Labor is no different. If your job is not drawing qualified applicants, then you aren’t offering enough. The qualified applicant is out there – you can count on that. But you’re not going get a quality employee for the price of a moron.

    And if that drives up the cost of the product, then so be it. That’s how the market is supposed to work. It’s not a bug, it’s a FEATURE.

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