Story: How Trucking Went From One Of The Best Jobs In America To The Worst

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Rajinder M.'s Comment
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It looks like this guy does his research and knows his stuff!

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A guy who didn't last more than six months as a driver is now considered an expert who "knows his stuff!"

And as far as 100's of interviews goes...

I've spoken with plenty of drivers who don't have a clue, even after years of doing this.

I don't know the nature of his experience as a driver. Do you? Perhaps it was just part of his research and only 6 months by design. In any event, 6 mos. is long enough to get a good glimpse of what it's like to be an OTR trucker.

Do you have any specific arguments with Viscelli's findings of fact or the conclusions he draws?

OTR:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

Rajinder M.'s Comment
member avatar

And I would just like to add that my original comment was directed at the poster that suggested that there was no real research behind the article. Whether you consider Viscelli an "expert" or not, there is no denying that he has relevant experience has done some real research.

Old School's Comment
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In any event, 6 mos. is long enough to get a good glimpse of what it's like to be an OTR trucker.

It's long enough to figure out that you don't know how to survive in this career, and then start playing the blame game.

there is no denying that he has relevant experience

As an individual who has been doing this for a good many years, I don't have a problem calling his extremely limited experience completely irrelevant.

OTR:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

Rajinder M.'s Comment
member avatar

It's long enough to figure out that you don't know how to survive in this career, and then start playing the blame game.

In this instance, no evidence of that being the case has been presented.

As an individual who has been doing this for a good many years, I don't have a problem calling his extremely limited experience completely irrelevant.

Also as an individual that has been doing this for years, I completely disagree with you. At 6 months I had a pretty good handle on how it was done. Always learning, always improving, for sure, but I knew how to operate by 6 months. Most who are successful at this "get it" by that time.

I would bet that some of the rookies here would also disagree with your saying that their 6 months of experience is completely irrelevant. And, know who else disagrees? The major carrier that I started with who offered me the opportunity to become a trainer with only a little more than 6 months under my belt.

Do you have any specific arguments with Viscelli's findings of fact or the conclusions he draws?

Errol V.'s Comment
member avatar

Rajinder posits

At 6 months I had a pretty good handle on how it was done.

Yes, that is the case for many rookie drivers. After a few months they have a handle on it. Bring it on! NOT!

For a reporter, as well as for any rookie, hubris* is your enemy. I've been driving for just over two years. Almost every day it's several hundred miles and a stop or two. I'm even a Moderator on Trucking Truth! But I'd never consider writing such an article in a national magazine, because I simply don't know enough!

* Had to use a fancy word because you can't use "c*ckiness" (rhymes with rockiness) on TT.

Raymond S.'s Comment
member avatar

very well said rick

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Viscelli blames the decline of trucker fortunes on the rise of independent contracting—an arrangement wherein trucking companies outsource many of the risks and costs of trucking to truckers themselves while declining to pay for benefits, all while advertising the arrangement as one that empowers truckers as small business owners. But the reality can be anything but empowering. Viscelli notes that some contracts in which truckers lease their vehicles from companies bind them in an kind of indentured servitude until the full cost of the lease is paid. In some cases, a trucker who wants to switch companies or leave the job might be hit with a bill of as much as $65,000.

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Yeah - agreed. But I wouldn't blame the ENTIRE DOWNFALL of the driver in the equation, on leasing. Though it is the same indictment of the reasons why leases aren't recommended here at TT.

Another part of the equation - at least for most folks here.

If you're young, and this is your first "career type job" - $40K a year for an ENTRY LEVEL POSITION, isn't bad - considering that many entry level jobs pay in the low $20's, even with a college degree (we're not talking lawyer or doctor here).

The downside to the decent starting pay is - it doesn't get that much better. The laws of physics (and HOS) limit your miles to around 3K a week (give or take), and topping out at the $0.55 (+/- - also factoring in bonus's for fuel/safety/etc.) doesn't give much room for upward mobility in the finance area of the career.

Many of us older folks - are looking at a second career, after much of a lifetime in another career. So $$ is a factor - but not a HUGE ONE (as compared to other young folks with kids at home/school, large overheads to carry, etc.).

It's not a whole lot of $$ for the LIFESTYLE (keeping in mind OTR trucking IS A LIFESTYLE - not just A JOB), but it becomes a LOVE for most that stay in it. So the "lifestyle" isn't considered "suffering", but actually a BENEFIT of the job.

The main body of the article in The Atlantic magazine - is more an indictment of the leasing model - than of the industry itself.

Do we get paid LESS for MORE HOURS of work than the average "hourly wage" employee? Obviously.

Would most drivers that are HAPPY with OTR Trucking as a lifestyle, trade it to be (possibly) PAID MORE for flipping burgers or something else? Highly unlikely. Would drivers that are doing this as a second/retirement career be happier doing "something else"? MOST LIKELY NOT - since what they are doing is ABOUT THE LIFESTYLE and NOT ABOUT THE MONEY.

Rick

OTR:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Old School's Comment
member avatar
Do you have any specific arguments with Viscelli's findings of fact or the conclusions he draws?

Yes, I guess I do. First off I disagree with his entire premise, which he states in the title of his article, "How One Of America's Steadiest Jobs Turned Into One Of It's Most Grueling"

Trucking is much less grueling today than it was 35 years ago, and it is still just as "steady" a job as it always was. I once owned a big GMC class 8 truck with no power steering. Back in the day, trucks had these huge steering wheels just so you could get a little leverage and turn the thing. Trucks still have fairly large steering wheels as sort of a hold over from that era, but they are quite easy to turn now. Viscelli, mentions in his article how he was surprised by the large steering wheel when he was trying to be a truck driver as a part of his research. He didn't seem to have a clue as to why it was so large.

I remember as a kid watching my uncle who owned a few trucks having to change his own tires when they would go flat. Back in the day, trucks had these split rings as an integral part of the wheel, which were not only difficult to beat into position, but dangerous too. In those days there was little to no such thing as "Road Service." Truck drivers were their own mechanics, grease monkeys, and tire changers. If something needed repaired they generally had to pull over somewhere and see if they could handle it themselves. Now days we just call "breakdown" and sit and wait until somebody shows up. Drivers were halfway expected to run all kinds of ridiculous hours because they were on paper logs that gave them plenty of leeway to cheat. Trucking has always been a job for the rugged independent minded type of individual who can face some tough challenges. Drivers have gotten so soft now days that all they want to do is moan and groan about how hard it is to be away from home, and come up with all kinds of pitiful sounding stories about being treated like indentured servants. It almost makes me want to throw up at times. When did the American Truck Drivers turn into such crybabies? This job is way easier than it used to be. We have all kinds of safety equipment incorporated into our trucks, constant scrutiny from D.O.T. officials which keeps most of us in really new and safe trucks, and the communications we have with dispatch are incredible. We can instantly send and receive email now, instead of having to find a truck stop with a full wall of "pay phones" that we might have to wait in line to use just to let our dispatcher know that we are empty and looking for another load.

To say this job has become one of America's most grueling, kind of sounds like something that a fellow with a Bachelor's in Philosophy, a Master's in Anthropology, and a PhD in Sociology would say. Oh wait a minute, those are the degrees Mr. Viscelli holds, in addition to the one month of truck driving school he went through, maybe another month with a trainer, and then a little less than four months as a professional driver. The last thing we need is an Anthropologist/Sociologist telling us how bad our job has become when he has absolutely no historical facts or perspective to back up his silly claim. It would be like me doing a four month stint in an Anthropological research project and then giving them my conclusions about the problems in their industry based on the utterly worthless knowledge that I gained during my brief stint in that field. All I would really have would just be some buzzwords that I had picked up from other Anthropologists in the field, with little or no perspective to base my findings on but what I had heard others speaking of when I was around them.

Continued...

Dispatcher:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Old School's Comment
member avatar

He likens our job to "sweat shops on wheels" when he quotes some unknown economist, and then he tells us of "Claudio" who apparently chose his own poison by getting himself into a lease agreement. Trucking companies can't force us to enter into a lease agreement, but Mr. Viscelli doesn't even seem to notice that there are millions of highly skilled company drivers out here who are making some really great money, and are smart enough to see right through these goofy leasing agreements. How can Claudio's choice of becoming a lease driver be blamed on the "sweat shops on wheels?" I understand his point about the really bad marketing ploys that the trucking companies have engaged in to promote leasing, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see right through the nonsense. I look back at my last couple of weekly paychecks (in excess of 1500 dollars each) as a company driver, and I find it laughable that he wants us to feel sorry for "Claudio" with this statement...

One of the things that’s changed in the trucking industry since the ‘70s—in addition to the decline of unions—is the rise of independent contracting. If they become independent contractors, truckers such as Claudio end up working harder and earning far less than they would otherwise. It is difficult to say exactly how much less, but it’s an arrangement that’s become the norm for experienced workers driving the “dry vans” and “reefers” that populate American highways and can haul just about anything that can be put in a box or on a pallet.

What kind of idiot would let that "become the norm" when they can be turning a really good cash flow as a company driver? This article would have been more helpful, and served a better purpose if it were aimed at the foolish drivers who choose to become lease operators, than laying all the blame on the "sweat shops on wheels." But this highly educated gentleman spent a little time with some truck drivers in their lounges and cafes, and heard all the same old stuff that I hear all the time, only I have the distinct advantage of recognizing that most of it is Bull Excrement. To think that one can spend four months on the road and then have some authoritative knowledge to share with the world on the down hill slide of our profession is just down right absurd.

I will agree that when one looks at national averages, our wages have taken a serious dip, but I also find that few truck drivers out here really understand how they themselves can have a very real and positive effect on their gross wages. I have in the plans to write a book myself one day on this very subject, and it won't have anything to do with indentured servitude or being mistreated, but rather on taking charge of your own destiny by understanding the dynamics of this business and making the choices that produce tangible results in your paycheck. This business is a very competitive one, and most drivers do not understand that they are out here every day competing for the top dollars. Today I delivered a load down in Miami that already was tightly scheduled for tomorrow. I have not delivered any of my last three months loads on the days they were scheduled - each of them has been early. That puts me in line for the next loads ahead of the guys who are content to just make sure they are "on time." I do this type of thing all the time by understanding the dynamics of this industry, and communicating well with my dispatcher , planners, and customers.

Had Mr. Viscelli applied himself diligently to this project for four or five years, he might have discovered some of the things that I have. But he had other things on his mind. He is basically trying to make a name for himself as a researcher, but in my opinion, he totally missed the target on this project. That is not necessarily an indictment. This industry is rife with misinformation, and he just happened to fall right into it unknowingly. That is what I love about the work we do here at Tucking Truth. We try to disseminate factual and helpful information without falling into the age old catch phrases and by-words that float around among the folks in our industry.

Dispatcher:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

Dry Van:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

Reefer:

A refrigerated trailer.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

Rajinder M.'s Comment
member avatar

I initially responded here because I was mystified by the knee-jerk, defensive reaction of some here to the article that was posted. With just a little further reading I found that the author, Viscelli had done a lot more research than someone here alleged. It turns out, in fact, that Viscelli had spent about 10 years researching the trucking industry prior to writing his book. His research involved, among other things, extensive, formal interviewing of drivers and industry executives, and even included 6 months training and working as an OTR driver for one of the large carriers (this experience, as I suspected, was part of his research, and 6 months in length by design).

As far as his motives go, it looks to me like he is trying to help drivers, and working class people, in general. Trucking used to be a good middle-class occupation. Viscelli is calling attention to the government and big trucking policies that have caused long haul trucker wages to decline to less than half of what they were before 1980. Wouldn't you like to be earning as much as a driver in the 1970's did that worked as hard as you do?

Viscelli's main target seems to be the "independent contractor" thing. How companies take advantage of many drivers lack of sophistication/education/experience to get them to sign on to truck lease plans that are heavily rigged in the companies favor and often lead to financial disaster for the driver. These companies are preying on the good and honorable dreams of many drivers to become independent business owners, to sell them into loser lease arrangements. Why would any driver have a problem with Viscelli further exposing this especially dark side of the industry?

You might want to be careful calling people who have signed onto these lease programs "idiots." These companies are led by highly educated, sophisticated people who sit at a high vantage point compared to your average driver, and they take advantage of it. Don't just blame the drivers.

And, regarding the "sweatshop on wheels" reference, it wasn't just a "quote from some economist." It was actually the title of a book by Michael Belzer who is a former (8 years) long-haul trucker who now teaches industrial relations at Wayne State University. "Sweatshops on Wheels raises crucial questions about the legacy of trucking deregulation in America and casts provocative new light on the issue of government deregulation in general."

OTR:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

Errol V.'s Comment
member avatar

Rajinder claims someone said there are "idiots".

I did a word search (Ctrl-F, find) for that term. It never occurrs in any comment in this topic, and doesn't even show up in either of the linked articles.

And Prof Belzer indeed has written much on the American trucking industry, including that Sweatshop book, published by Oxford University Press, no less. But the accusation of "Sweatshop" doesn't show up here, either. Have you been posting on another forum and got mixed up? Nobody gets away with applying that term to people on this forum.

We all have opinions about a truck drivers job, ranging from "I get paid to do this??" to those who feel OTR was a big mistake for them. So, Mr Rajinder, what argument are you trying to make on this forum?

OTR:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
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