What is it like to be a trucker nowadays? A truck driver used to be a close to middle class job and a promise of freedom, but what has it become?
Imagine you are an owner operator. You have worked hard to save money and buy your own truck. You know it means sacrificing some of stability but you want to be able to choose when you want to work. But what you have got instead is all kinds of regulations telling you what to do and how to do that. Also you have to pay for your truck insurance, all the repairs and then because of the low pay you can find yourself in a situation when you can’t even pay for your health insurance. Additionally, because you are over the road most of the time, you are not present at home, which can lead to problems with your spouse. So much to go through and for what? So-called freedom? No wonder truckers go on strikes every now and then.
For trucking companies it is a great deal to hire owner operators. They don’t get workers compensation like employees do, or Social Security contributions, as well as protection from health and safety regulations. Companies prefer classify all the workers they can as independent contractors to avoid taxes.
The situation is at its worst in the ports. Unionized truck drivers used to make good money, but in the 80s Congress deregulated the industry, and the majority of the port truck drivers became independent contractors. Today being “independent” in the trucking industry means that you get paid less. On average they make $28,000 per year. Employee drivers make $7,000 more and get better benefits.
In the last 30 years things have been getting worse and worse for port truck drivers. They spend hours in ports waiting in lines to get back on the road, and they are not paid for the time they waste. Many reasons can be found for why it is happening. According to the Teamsters, who used to represent all the port truckers, one of the main reasons is that workforce is not paid for its time and the delays don’t cost the shipper anything.
Probably, a lot of independent contractors should not be classified as such. The majority of trucking companies don’t let owner operators work for other companies. Moreover, they tell those drivers how the job must be done. In many cases contractors could really be qualified as employees being dictated like this.
What may solve the problem is to see every driver as an employee unless the company can prove otherwise, but this measure met a lot of opposition from the industry, as well as drivers themselves. Many of them are not ready to lose their independence and don’t want to feel like being employed with a company is forced on them.
And so the problem remains. There are weeks when owner operators get nothing because they have spent too much time in lines or the gas prices have increased dramatically. The industry is going through the rough times as well. There is a huge shortage of truck drivers, because many leave after more and more regulations have been pushed on them, and not so many people are willing to start a career in the industry which promises freedom but seems to forget the true meaning of the word.
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This plight of truck drivers is an issue that needs to be looked into. In 2014 the American Trucking Association estimated the U.S. is short 30,000 truck drivers and expected to surge to 239,000 by 2022. Driving cost is high and falling in driver pay has caused a lot of drivers to go out of the industry, this may see these figures rise higher than they should have
If you are an owner operator tied up by all forms of regulations and inconveniences, the life of an employed driver, you would find almost unbearable. They are constantly tracked by GPS and every move recorded. Electronic logging makes it impossible to drive now and fill in the detail later. Their dispatchers always know their whereabouts, where they are going, what they are doing, the amount of hours left on the logs and even how long the drivers have been in the sleeper. They are even told where to fuel, what route to drive, how fast they can go, and many more endless rules.
This situation of owner operators in relation to how they are treated and considered by companies is an unfortunate one. There is some hope now with the recent fall in gas prices, that their income might improve, but this is not enough. Owner operators need more bargaining power to be able to negotiate better conditions with companies. Companies evidently gain a lot from them, no social security contributions, as well as health and safety regulations and they even avoid taxes through classifying them as independent contractors.
The truth is truck driving is not for everyone. If you like driving and strictly sightseeing then the regulations and inconveniences might not really matter to you. This does not mean they are fair and proper.
This is horrible, I was always under the impression that truckers were highly paid employees…no wonder there is a shortage! Thanks for making us aware of the situation/