Outraged truckers threaten to turn off their engines on April 1 (no fooling)
by Barb Ickes
March 20, 2008
What started as a small, online grassroots effort now appears to have the potential for something bigger.
Dan Little, the owner/operator of a livestock hauling company in Carrollton, Mo., estimated Tuesday that at least 1,000 other truckers from across the United States have committed so far to joining him in a strike on April 1.
Although none of the truckers interviewed Tuesday at the Iowa 80 Truck Stop, Walcott, which is just off Interstate 80 west of Davenport, has heard of the intended strike, some said they would shut down, too.
Weldon Kinnison, a Virginia trucker who was hauling soft drink from Indiana to Denver, heard about the plans for a strike for the first time Tuesday while stopping at Walcott.
“I’m an owner/operator with the American Truckers Association,” he said. “I’d park my truck for a week with the cattle haulers.
“The fuel is too high, and there’s no reason for it. I don’t listen to the CB (radio) that much, but I guess I’ll start now.”
At issue is the rising cost of diesel fuel, which has reached or exceeded $4 per gallon in at least 17 states. But Little does not expect his strike to bring down the per-gallon price of gas, nor does he expect to have any effect on the oil companies.
“What I would personally like to see is our federal and state governments, until our economy recovers, suspend federal and state fuel taxes,” the 49-year-old said. “The second thing I’d like to see is an oversight committee for truck insurance, which is part of what’s taking us down.
“The average owner/operator is paying $600 to $800 a month for truck insurance. It’s based on personal credit, which means the monthly cost is going up for a lot of truckers because their credit is going down.
“Everything in the world is going up (in price), except for what we do. I lose money if I start my truck, and that truck is paid for — free and clear.”
Mike Hills, a driver from Wyoming, Iowa, said he also would shut down to support Little and the others — if he could.
“I can’t strike with them because I’m company,” he said while at the Walcott truck stop. “If I owned the truck, I’d strike with them. As far as I’m concerned, the gas prices are driving the economy.
“It might be a good thing if the drivers strike. They can’t make payments. Maybe if the oil companies bought all the trucks, things would change. Everything in this country is trucked.”
Hills then removed his wristwatch, using it to explain his point of view: “Every piece of this watch was trucked from somewhere. If you can’t keep up with the trucks, we’re all screwed — not just this country, but the world.”
Keith Deblieck, the owner of a trucking company out of Geneseo, Ill., said that, for many drivers, the time for a strike has come.
“They ought to strike,” he said. “We all ought to. They lose money every day they go out.”
But officials from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association are encouraging truckers to find options to a strike. The trade group represents the interests of more than 160,000 small business trucking companies and drivers.
“If we told our operators to shut down, we’d be slapped with a lawsuit because of anti-trust,” said association spokeswoman Norita Taylor, adding that a poor economic outlook and rising fuel prices are creating “a lot of emotions” among truckers.
“It’s hurting these people who are living paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “People are upset. What can we do?”
One thing the association is trying to do is talk to lawmakers and truckers about making sure that surcharges being charged to shippers are getting back to the people who paid for the gas. Surcharges are supposed to compensate for high fuel charges, but they must be negotiated with each shipper, and the truckers who pay at the pump aren’t always first in line to receive the surcharges.
Even when the surcharges do make it back to the driver, they are not enough.
“I turn down loads every day,” Little said. “The loads aren’t the problem — never have been.
“It’s the only thing I know how to do, driving a truck. But I sold my trailer the other day, and I’m not buying another one until something gets done.
“In no way, shape or form do truckers want to hurt this country. My whole deal on this thing is that I’m shutting down on April 1. Call it a strike, a shutdown or just flat-ass going broke.”
Jim Johnston, president of Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, warned that a strike “is not the answer,” saying, “Calling for a strike without the support of the majority would show weakness rather than strength, and the result would be increased economic hardship to the small percentage of truckers who do participate in the shutdown with no gains to justify their sacrifice.”
Little said he has no other choice.
“Our federal government is subsidizing railroads, airlines, banks and farmers,” he said. “Meanwhile, we’re being taxed to death.”