Trucking No Longer a “Ticket To The Middle Class”


It’s a few minutes into a run carrying a load of scrap copper from the Port of New Jersey to a waste transfer station outside Philadelphia, and Miguel Tigre reaches over the dash of his maroon-and-yellow cab to grab a folder stuffed with the receipts squeezing him dry. He reels off calculations: He gets paid $400. It’s about 150 miles round-trip, and his truck gets 5.2 miles per gallon, so that’s $180 in fuel. Tolls are $20. Taxes take about a quarter off the top — but then there’s insurance for the truck, and any repairs, which came to $22,000 last year.

All told, that amounts to $32,000 in take-home pay per year, which is barely enough to cover rent and food for him and his wife, who doesn’t work. Then there’s child support and car insurance. Tigre, a stocky 56-year-old with the paunch that comes from sitting for 12 hours a day, says he can’t afford health insurance — he’s diabetic, and pays $100 a pop out of pocket for regular doctor’s visits, plus $300 a month for insulin. And retirement? Tigre laughs, harshly.

This piece on The Washington Post’s Wonkblog has now taught me basically everything I know about truck driving, which before reading it was uh, not much! Reporter Lydia DePellis talks to a few different truck drivers about the effects of a diminished labor union, rising toll prices and diesel fuel costs, and the vast increase of truck “owner-operators” who are essentially independent contractors and receive no benefits.

“The conditions that these guys work under is like sharecropping,” says Potter. “The trucking company tells them what crops they can plant, what fertilizer they can use, makes them pay for all their equipment, and then tells them, you’re independent.”

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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11 Comments / Post A Comment

shallowpate (#1,701)

We can thank Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, and Ralph Nader (among others liberal heroes) for this mess.

ATF (#4,229)

@shallowpate YES! We’re going to do this! I LOVE playing the “completely unsubstantiated claims with an obvious political bias” game! It’s always so informative and interesting. Really adds to the discussion at hand.

shallowpate (#1,701)

@ATF You’re right, I should have elaborated, so here goes… Wonkblog rightly traces everything back to trucking deregulation. The key bill is the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, which Carter signed. About Kennedy and Nader, see here: http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2009/08/27/194177/ted-kennedy-deregulator/

shallowpate (#1,701)

@ATF Oh, and my politics have a reddish tint — but not the Republican kind. ;-)

Allison (#4,509)

Man, the death of labor unions is slamming so many people.

ATF (#4,229)

@Allison I feel like it’s an issue that needs to be talked about more but won’t until it is talked about more. Contracting and being on your own is happening to SO many people but I don’t think many realize it’s not just jobs like trucking or whatnot.

I can say that I would imagine that most would be surprised that this is happening to scientists at most of the pharmas (of any size really). Having just spent four years as a contractor with no benefits beyond health insurance, I can say that I wasn’t the only one that wound up doing that. Contract jobs were plenty but finding FTE status was not. Why? Because it’s so much easier to hire a bunch on contractors when hands in the lab are needed and it makes for *much* better press to quietly get rid of them when the finances take a turn south because you are technically not laying off anyone.

Allison (#4,509)

@ATF Wow, no I never would’ve thought of *scientists* being locked out of major benefits/regular hiring practices.

@Allison I have an engineering degree and when I was job hunting last year I seriously considered contracting because so many jobs posting were for that and didn’t see many FT positions. So it’s happening in may fields that seem like FT employment would be abundant.

Stina (#686)

@Allison Data analysts/programmers too. Which seems to bite companies in the ass (HA-ha)because if someone does a ton of work and then leaves if you want a variation of existing data or to know beyond the existing documentation how something was made there is no one around anymore who can do that for you.

Allison (#4,509)

@Stina my office has this problem with IT/programmer types. Great, we brought in these people to build us a system! and now that it’s been in place for a year, we realize how it could be optimized, but they’re all gone.

Stina (#686)

@Allison Absolutely. It blows my mind that companies would leave themselves so vulnerable to have no one around that can both monitor and fix the process as it goes along because too often those FTE people know systems and database structures but they don’t REALLY know the company and its data needs so they made a few mistakes in development or couldn’t anticipate changes and the company is just stuck with what they have.

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