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Why America's 1.8 million long haul drivers cannot strike

Tens of thousands of truck drivers planned earlier this year to strike. Such a work stoppage can have enormous implications – around 71% of freight transport is moved by long-haul cars, including groceries, manufactured goods and even money.

"We're not all fat gossip, and we're not doing all the stereotypical trucker stuff," Will Kling, a truck driver based in Reno, Nevada, told Business Insider last year. "Truck has been forgotten."

"When you go to that store and get that bottle of wine or that ketchup, you don't think about the process it took to get it where it is," Kling said.

But instead of teaching America to respect the 1[ads1].8 million rig rigs, the much hyped protest was a dud. Ultimately, only a few dozen people participated in the "Black Smoke Matters" strike in April.

Read more: Thousands of truck drivers strike a strike in a Facebook group called & # 39; Black Smoke Matters & # 39; – here is the origin of the provocative name

Blue-collar workers have generally struggled in recent decades when wage and job security falls. But after the biggest strike since 1970, General Motors employees represented by United Automobile Workers secured a $ 11,000 bonus this week, a promise to retain 9,000 jobs and other victories, according to the Detroit Free Press.

And that strike held serious financial implications for the United States' largest automaker. Bank of America estimated that the walkout price cost GM $ 2 billion.

It's not just car workers that demand pay and benefits, either. In 2018, a record number of American workers went on strike; the most since 1986, Vox reported. There are 485,000 employees, ranging from public school teachers to hotel workers at Marriott.

The reason why truck drivers cannot achieve the same gains dates back to the Carter era

This driving force for collective action raises the question of why one of the biggest labor forces of blue collar workers may not appear to strike as well.

The cause goes all the way back to the late 1970s, when even liberal lawmakers jumped on the deregulation band. Truck was seen as a key area of ​​deregulation could benefit consumers.

Read more: Salary for truck drivers has fallen by as much as 50% since the 1970s – and experts say little law explains why

In the mid-1900s Truck drivers had to buy certain routes to move a certain type of product from one place to another. But goods that are exempt from regulation moved to 20% to 40% under similar products that were regulated, according to Thomas Gale Moore, then a senior candidate at Stanford University's conservative public policy think tank Hoover Institution. Moore noted that the prices for "cooked poultry" were 50% higher than the prices for "freshly-bred poultry."

In the end, this meant that consumers paid more because trucking was an industry with little competition and high barriers to entry. But it also meant that truck drivers were better paid.

 Trucker protest 1973

1973: Truck drivers gather ahead of a fuel price protest in Worcester, Massachussetts.
Spencer Grant / Getty Images

The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 removed many of the cumbersome regulations that the previous law, enacted in 1935, had enacted. In particular, it noted that new trucking companies could open with relative ease and removed many of the routing regulations. Companies also had more control over changing their interest rates.

The law was passed by President Jimmy Carter, who declared that the MCA would save consumers as much as $ 8 billion ($ 25 billion in 2018 dollars) each year.

The deregulatory act also squeezed the unions

After passing the MCA, the truck driver's salary tumbled. From 1977 to 1987, average truck driver earnings fell by 24%, according to research from Wayne State University economics professor Michael Belzer. And from 1980 to the present, a Business Insider analysis found that the median pay for trucks has dropped as much as 35.8% in some metropolitan areas.

"To be a truck driver, it used to be a pretty good blue-collar, middle-class job, but over the last 40 years it has subsided in some way," says Gordon Klemp, rector of the National Transportation Institute, previously told Business Insider.

 truck pay 1980 to 2017

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Andy Kiersz / Business Insider

The unions also lost much of their power. The membership of Teamsters, once one of the most powerful unions around, has dropped dramatically. In 1974, Belzer wrote that there were 2,019,300 trucks in the Teamsters. Now it's 75,000.

When truck drivers were mostly in Teamsters, work stoppages were common – and sometimes quite dramatic. In 1970, a nationwide truck strike went on for more than a month, with a severe financial blow in cities such as Chicago and St. Louis.

In Cleveland, Ohio, the consequences were even domestic security as stone-throwing protesters. drew 3000 national security guards to the city. "Helmeted troops, armed with M – 1 rifles, were stationed in pairs on some transitions, while other guards were on patrol in quarter-ton trucks," reported The New York Times on May 1, 1970.

The strike led to a salary increases of almost 30% for all Teamsters trucks. The average nationwide hourly wage of $ 4 received a $ 1.10 / hour shock, the Times reported.

Without a union, a nationwide strike to force pay and benefits skin is almost impossible

Bob Stanton, a longtime truck driver who did not do it I support Black Smoke Matters strikes, said it is too challenging to argue all of America's truck drivers to merge. "You can't get enough truck to attend," he told Business Insider.

Truck driver Lee Epling noted that truck drivers do not have enough time or money to strike. "For a move like (Black Smoke Matters) to happen, you need the two things independent owner operators like me don't have," Epling told Business Insider. "It's the luxury of the time, and a whole lot of money."

But the union would ease the obstacles to strike. Most strikes are called by unions as a last resort while negotiating a new contract. Even those who may not necessarily agree with the strike are prevented from working because strikes are called in after enough union members vote to quit working.

Read more: Truckers voted for Trump in numbers. Now they say that his trade war "kills" their ability to earn a living.

And contract negotiations create an event and reason for the strike to happen. Non-unionized workers do not have equal access to information or a unified purpose.

 Trucker protest

1977: Jose Salazar, 6, joins Teamster's protest. Others are Joseph's grandfather, Lamont Bumcrot, on the left, and Al Landers, both truck drivers for Safeway.
Denver Post via Getty Images

Despite this, many truck drivers – a right-leaning work pool – are not interested in actually striking unions. That includes Rick Blatter, a spokesman for the Canadian Truckers Association who has led several transportation protests.

"I'm not a professional," Blatter told Business Insider. "I am optional. Those who want to unite should have this right. I personally do not want to be united. Those who do not want to unite should have the right to be a non-union."

Nevertheless, Blatter is confident that truckers will one day merge, especially through a professional association. "Truck strikes don't always work because organizing independent truckers is like organizing anarchists," he said. "It's very difficult. But everything is possible. In the end."

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