Sun, Jul

How America’s Truckers Got Hijacked


GUEST COMMENTARY - Keep On Truckin’” was an iconic underground cartoon created in 1968 by comic master Robert Crumb.

Featuring various big-footed men strutting jauntily through life, the expression became widely popular as an expression of young people’s collective optimism. “You’re movin’ on down the line,” Crumb later explained. “It’s proletarian. It’s populist.”

But today the phrase has become ironic. Like too many other workers, America’s truck drivers themselves are no longer moving on down the line of fairness, justice, and opportunity.

What had been a skilled, middle-class, union job in the 1960s is now largely a skilled poverty-wage job. That’s all thanks to the industry’s relentless push for deregulation and de-unionization, which has decoupled drivers from upward mobility.

Trucking has been turned into a corporate racket, with CEOs arbitrarily abusing the workers who move their products across town and country. To enable the abuse, corporate lawyers have fabricated a legal dodge, letting shippers claim that their truck drivers are not their “employees,” but “independent contractors.”

And just like that, drivers don’t get decent wages, overtime pay, workers comp, Social Security, health care, rest breaks, or reimbursement for truck expenses like gasoline, tires, repairs, and insurance. And as “contractors,” of course, drivers are not allowed to unionize.

This rank rip-off has become the industry standard, practiced by multibillion-dollar shipping giants like XPO, FedEx, Penske, and Amazon. The National Employment Law Project recently reported that two-thirds of truckers hauling goods from U.S. ports are intentionally misclassified as contractors, rather than as employees of the profiteers that hire them, direct them, set their pay, and fire them.

Of course, corporate bosses try to hide their greed with a thin legalistic fig leaf. “We believe our [drivers] classifications are legal,” sniffed an XPO executive. Sure they are, sport, since your lobbyists write the laws!

But might doesn’t make right and “legal” doesn’t mean moral. It’s time to put truckers first and rebuild this great American occupation. 

(OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. Distributed by OtherWords.org.)