U.S. truckers clog cities to ask for help amid COVID-19

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by Peter Mertz

Many U.S. truckers are said to be conservatives and loyal to President Donald Trump, but truck protests over the past week have been staged over survival amid the COVID-19 crisis, not politics.

“These are independent drivers who were protesting nonpayment by companies that have hired them to move goods,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, after his forces broke up some 70 trucks that briefly stopped traffic Wednesday on the east loop of Houston in the southern U.S. state of Texas.

Drivers said that “freight brokers,” who arrange loads and payment, were dragging their feet on paying for completed work, according to businessinsider.com.

“The brokers are the ones who are breaking the economy and breaking truck drivers; they are killing us, literally,” Addiel Santos, an independent owner-operator, told the industry news site FreightWaves.

Houston police said they are investigating truckers’ claims of wage theft.

About 2,500 km away in California’s biggest city, Los Angeles, a similar theme was displayed Friday when “at least two dozen trucks slowed down traffic along the 10 Freeway near downtown L.A., while a similar scenario played out on the 10 Freeway in Baldwin Park,” CBS-Los Angeles reported.

Also on Friday, Phoenix had “truckers circling Arizona State Capital protesting long work hours because of Coronavirus Pandemic,” Rick Davis posted on Twitter.

DISCONTENT

With U.S. COVID-19 cases nearing one million, truckers have been recognized as unheralded heroes — transporting food and vital necessities to stores across the country.

In Colorado last month, when grocery store shelves became empty in the remote western part of the state, it was the Kroger trucks from Denver that kept millions of people supplied with food across the state.

“Don’t forget the truckers — what they’ve done during the pandemic has been great,” Ralph Hampton posted on Twitter last week.

However, as many non-essential businesses have closed or been limited, truckers have been hit hard.

Many independent truckers, who work from load to load instead of for a company, are staying at home because they have no work. But they still have bills to pay.

Middlemen brokers have been giving truckers reduced pay, because the supply of truckers exceeds the demand.

Trucking insiders question if this is excessive profiteering during a time of a national crisis, and therefore is unlawful.

“Stop booking cheap loads” — that is a huge sign on the back of the first of a long stream of trucks that ambled at 10 miles per hour down the California freeway on Friday, according to a tweet.

“Brokers were paying for trips from Houston to Midland-Odessa like 1,800 U.S. dollars to 1,900 U.S. dollars before. Right now, they are paying 700 U.S. dollars. A trip from Houston to Odessa costs me 400 U.S. dollars. If I get a flat tire, need road service, I have to pay out of my pocket, and still only get 700 U.S. dollars,” Santos said.

Not only are truckers angry about reduced wages, but further discontent may be sparked from federal relief funds that have yet to find their wallets.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association sent a letter last week to Congress, expressing frustration with the Paycheck Protection Program and other efforts by the Small Business Administration to help businesses stay afloat during the pandemic, according to CBS News Los Angeles.

The letter read in part: “We are currently receiving several hundred calls daily from drivers who are unable to buy essential supplies to protect themselves from COVID-19. Basic items like paper towels, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes are nearly impossible to find right now. The irony is that truckers are hauling these supplies but they are unable to actually buy them.”

The group previously warned if the nation’s truck drivers become ill in large numbers, the U.S. supply chain could be at risk.

PROTESTS IN HISTORY

U.S. truckers have protested in the past, for similar reasons that mirror their 2020 discontent.

In 1979, during the Jimmy Carter administration and the oil embargo, independent truckers were angry about diesel prices jumping 20 percent to 0.88 U.S. dollar a gallon.

They partially shut down 13 states by blocking gas stations and crawling down crowded interstate highways.

Truck protests were reported in Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon, and also Minnesota.

In Indiana, drivers parked 300 trucks four abreast across a one-mile section of the Indiana Toll Road near Gary, blocking the toll road and a section of Interstate 94.

But, as was the case then, and now, no incidents of violence were reported. Enditem

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