My Problems with the Trucking Industry Corporations
Five years ago, I became a truck driver, being a 3rd generation of my Paternal 18 wheeler profession. It’s not something that I’ve ever really wanted to do, much more than a decent sized paycheck. How decent? I’m not always able to properly gauge how I’m paid, as many times it’s ‘by the mile’, so if my tires aren’t rolling, I’m not making money.
I started out by going to a “Truck Driving School”, under an 8 month contract. I have found them to be as crooked as they could possibly be.
For starters, the companies sign you into a legally binding contract for 8 months, or they’ll blacklist you from the trucking industry by claiming that you owe them money. This goes onto a DAC report, which tracks each driver who has a CDL. It is issued by the Federal Motor Safety Commission Administration for each driver and each company, and assigns independent adjustable percentage based insurance rates. The insurance companies can judge you based on your DAC report. The insurance judges your company by your companies combined DAC report, by all of their current employees, the equipment during inspections, and yearly permitting. The company can put various things upon your DAC like if you abandon equipment, get into accidents, incidents, or fail various parts of physical test or drug tests. It builds a driver profile over a number of years.
So, upon entering the trucking school, I was put into a dormatory, much like any other college, 3 beds to a room, without any furniture, and all of the beds had a mixture of sweat and urine stains, besides the constant smell of thousands of other bodies passing through every month Of course, it’s with whatever stranger answered either a Craigslist ad, Truck magazine ad, or from some email campaign. They say they offer a free meal per day, which is what most people seem to have shown up for, besides staying indoors for a few evenings. “They really do hire just about anybody who applies, don’t they??” were the exact words out of my mouth more than once. More than a dozen times. The first week, the police arrested the guy down the hall for importing 2 ounces of weed. Well then.
Then I find out that the company gets matching funds from the Federal Government for Educating. I do some quick math. $3,200 per student, 30-70 per class, two classes per week, per five terminals starts adding up VERY quickly. I asked some of the educators about the turnover rate at this school. He said “about 175%”.
I was FLOORED to find out that they’re also making money for the students pulling the loads at $0.18 per mile, which is half of the price of an over the road driver at two years experience. After all of my rough math, it became very clear, very quickly that these guys were making money hand-over-fist. Besides being able to sue for “Breach of Contract”, they were guaranteed money simply for every student they talked onto getting onto the bus.
My training was quick… Too quick.
Most of the people dropped out after realizing that one meal per day wasn’t enough to live on, and almost everyone who arrived, didn’t have more than a few dollars to their names. Most came from disparaged low income areas, and many guys who were in gangs, arrived to escape the drama near their homes.
I used the first week to take tests at the DMV. I was supposed to study on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with testing on the afternoon in Friday, except I’m not an idiot. I’d rather spend my Friday afternoon pealing out each thumbnail with a pair of pliers than spend a busy Friday trying to take a test. Instead, Wednesday morning, I went and passed every single test available to me. I didn’t even read the drivers manual until I took the HAZ-MAT portion, which I gotten wrong, initially. Believe the hype, it’s not something that’s simply “common sense”, like the rest of the tests. You have to know compound types and maximum allowable transportable by either ground, rail, boat or plane. Then, we spent a week in the classroom, if you can call it that, with one hour of written instruction, and the rest being held captive.
We learned “Hours of Service”, and other log books, before switching to “Map Reading”. We closed with a few hours playing around with the semi’s computer system, which only allows communication between the driver and dispatcher.
In one week of driving up and down the freeway, jumping from off-ramp to on-ramp, putting
only 18 hours of ‘behind the wheel’, and a “on the third try” driving test performed by the company, I was sent out with a driver trainer.
My first real order was hauling 38,000 lbs of pudding from Cedar Rapids, IA to Ft. Worth, TX. I knew that the tandems to the trailer were all the way to the rear, and with this heavy of a load, and to balance it, I would need to move trailer wheels closer to the tractor, to change the fulcrum point. The Driver Trainer said “Nah, it should be just fine.”
No sooner than I cross the Kansas state line from Missouri, than my first weight station. As I pulled over the scales, I was given the signal to go around to the back and park. I was well over the posted legal limit because the driver trainer didn’t let me adjust the tandems. Then I find out that he’s only ever worked with flat-bed trailers, which don’t have sliding tandems.
I earned a $250 ticket, which I paid onsite with my birthday money, then slid the tandems to the proper length. I still resent having to pay this fine.
No sooner than I reached my order than I had gotten off his truck to find a better trainer. I was sorely mistaken. I was paired with a 5′ Latino who didn’t really speak English. We went from Dallas to Laredo, with me driving the entire time. He
had me bring him to the border, where he picked up a pound of fresh Marijuana. I was flabbergasted, again. …My luck never fails to surprise me, at least. Again, I got off of the truck, this time in Oklahoma City, hoping that I wouldn’t get a Latino trainer. Instead, I was paired with a 350 lb, 6’5″ Older black man. He was confused because he was about to take a vacation over Thanksgiving, and wouldn’t be back for several weeks. So I got on my 4th trainers truck. The 2nd day that I
did, his father died, and he had to quit to close his fathers estate. On to my 5th trainers truck, in 35 days, to find that he’s completely broken down with a part to his semi that wouldn’t be in since we were stuck in the Mojave desert, in a scary motel room together. It was when this man, who had Alopecia (inability to grow hair) began to hit on me that I realized the gravity of the situation. I couldn’t quit. I couldn’t leave. I had to sit and graduate into my own semi…
I realized that we’re all bitches to our jobs for money and survival, some more than others, and the situation I had placed myself was more evil than Wal Mart, Enron, and Haliburton put together… And it was entirely legal to do!!! Contracted employment.
The other issue with this is that these companies set up their students to fail. They poorly maintain equipment, mainly the trailers. On average, seven out of ten days that I would connect to about fifteen trailers, every single one of them would have something illegally broken, and once or twice per week, so broken that I’m scared to pull it down the road. Typically, the drivers dispatcher would say “it’s not an issue” and “put in a maintenance ticket and they’ll fix it later”. The drivers dispatchers would frequently push their students to deliver while they are in the sleeper berth, drive up to eleven hours in a fourteen hour day, with ten hours “off duty”, which they must find sleep, assist a co-driver, eat, and relax all while the semi is moving. While driving with another student, I realized that this was nearly impossible unless you had a pre-existing sleeping disorder.
The pay was $0.18 per mile. Think about how many miles could possibly be driven in a day, following the speed limit and rules of “Hours of Service”.
Most of the trucks are governed at 62 MPH, for semi’s, but we’ll use 60 for a nicer number.
60 MPH x 11 hours = 660 Miles, tops, if there is no traffic, on-ramp to off-ramp. For 660 miles @ $0.18 = $118.0, divided by 11 hours, and that comes out to $10.80 per hour… If it was simply a 40 hour a week “job”. It’s not. There isn’t any “overtime” after 40 hours. You continue to make cents per mile at the student rate, and you’re locked into a contract, stuck in a fart coffin with a stranger, three and a half weeks at a time. That’s next to the minimum wage under OPTIMAL circumstances, no traffic, no weather, no weight stations, not picking up, not dropping off, not driving under 60 miles per hour.
The reality is that the students pick up and drop off loads which travel about a thousand miles, and about half of the day is spent fetching and repairing another trailer. That costs miles and time, time which the company isn’t paying for.
For nearly 4 months, I was repaying the loan (the loan that the government was matching), for my drivers education to the company.
So they pay at less than half of the going rate, taking pay to repay for the education, one which was “poor” (at best). I was paying nearly $70 an hour to be held prisoner for 60 of the 174 hours in the training center.
Besides that, I was working for $3.85 an hour, before taxes and loan repayment.
When you see a semi going down the road, the chances are that the driver has been to one of these schools. They have suffered through hunger, sleepless days and nights rolling down the road, afraid for your life because your co-driver has the exact same stresses.
After you read this, realize that the tractor and trailer you cut off probably cannot stop in time to avoid smashing you into tiny little pieces.
All truckers love boobs, too. This is a fact.