Monday, July 15, 2024
On the Road with Mike MurchisonTrucking

When the Teamsters ran the trucking industry

I have no idea what became of Jimmy Hoffa other than that he disappeared and never returned. There were people who wanted him gone.

Hoffa was the President of the largest union in North America, the Teamsters’ Union.

From the 50s to the 70s, the Teamster’s ran the trucking industry with an iron fist. You wanted to drive a truck, you most likely would have to join the Teamster’s union.

Union Drivers, Union docks, and Union dues.

Which in a nutshell meant, you did the job you were hired to do and nothing more. You brough the freight to the back of your trailer and no further. You worked so many hours and no more. You had a grievance there were channels to follow. And…if the Union called a strike, then you walked the picket line.

Now after then President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney finished singing ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’ and the ink had started drying on the North American Free Trade Agreement, unions started to lose their grip on the trucking industry.

President Jimmy Carter deregulated the US trucking industry with the stroke off a pen. Virtually castrating the ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission), the government body that granted operating authorities to trucking companies.

Back then a company’s operating authority was their collateral. They had the exclusive right to operate in approved freight lanes with published freight rates. If any other company wanted in on those lanes than it had prove that their service was needed. Not only that, but the companies who were running the lanes could dispute any application from a new carrier.

Shortly after the US deregulated, Canada followed suit. The Reimer, Kingsway, Consolidates Freight, Maritime-Ontario companies on the Canadian landscape had to make room on the white line for the newcomers.

It was inevitable that this happened. It had to, to make the NAFTA agreement work. And it was with the NAFTA agreement that the Teamster’s started losing their grip in the trucking business.

We got paid for the distance between cities; never mind the miles THROUGH the city.
Photo: “Over-under-over” Mike Murchison

Trucking companies sprung up overnight.  The majority of them wanted nothing to do with the Teamster’s.  Just get the business and roll. And what they charged was nobody’s business.

It’s been that way for quite a while until Amazon and Prime showed up.

Thanks due in part to ‘immediate gratification ‘ on the part of consumers, Trucking companies have evolved into ‘logistics ‘ companies. Prime is the prime example of this.

When you tie Amazon’s warehousing model to Prime’s logistics abilities (i.e. trailers, independent trucks to move the trailers) and partnerships with UPS, FedEx, United States Postal Service and Canada Post, you wind up with a 1-2-3 combination that would drop Mike Tyson faster than the blink of an eye.  Bam! Your package is at the door.

Back when I started in ’86 (with a non-union company) guys like me put in long hours. Humped freight, unloaded full trailers of boxed beef and drive. It was back-breaking work for which I often I wasn’t compensated – especially the dock work.

Driving was measured by what was then often referred to as the ‘PC MILER’ A guide that gave you miles from city limit to city limit. This excluded any miles you had to drive within the city.  This could wind up costing you upwards of 30 miles you didn’t get paid for driving through the city. And that was just one city.

Now, let’s throw in six cities you have to run through, add in the rush hour delays and the muscle spasms in the left leg working the clutch; it all adds up.

Yes, Free Trade has helped the economy. It’s helped create business, increased the amount of jobs in trucking. But it has kept Driver pay low. It created a lot of minimum wage service industry jobs which often get classified as ‘part-time’. Sadly, it has kept a lot of Drivers away from home just to carve out a living.

Add into that the enormous cost of road expenses, and the pressure to cover the miles due to the restricted operating hours of service and the mandatory E-logs in trucks.

Competition is tough and fierce. Only those who run lean, mean, and hard will survive.

The demise of the Teamster’s Union, along with deregulation, NAFTA and the big player on the field Amazon have together created an industry that finds itself seeking Drivers from oversees. Partly due to attrition, but mostly due to many tossing their hands on the air saying, “enough is enough!”

Say what you like about unions. They did look after their gear jammers. As far as needing my package ASAP…I can wait. And NAFTA? Well, look at your paycheck. You decide.

–MLM