Trucking Industry Moves Toward Head-On Labor Collision

Reuters/Rebecca Cook

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Truck drivers have requested the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) look into a series of complaints from drivers claiming they were victims of workplace retaliation from employers.

The drivers assert their employers have used retaliatory tactics in response to their efforts to collectively bargain and improve their working conditions. The drivers cited examples of retaliatory measures from employers, which include withholding jobs and intentional “dispatch delays” that force truckers to wait for hours for their loads.

The NLRB has recently taken action in favor of truckers, including in February, when an NLRB judge ordered a trucking company to reinstate six drivers. The judge also ordered the company to compensate the six drivers, who were were fired the day after voting to unionize in 2015.

Schneider National Carriers settled a 2008 class action lawsuit with California truck drivers in Oct. 2016. The company paid $28 million to drivers over a dispute regarding wages for meal and rest breaks.

The trucking industry accounts for nearly 70 percent of freight tonnage in the U.S. There are over 3.5 million “class 8” truck drivers in the U.S., which are the large tractor trailers (semi-trucks, 18-wheelers).

While the Teamsters union represents 75,000 truck drivers, dockworkers, mechanics and officer personnel under its “freight division,” a majority of drivers operate as independent contractors today. Truck drivers made an average salary of 110,000 in 1980, while they now make $40,000 per year, according to a Time report.

A September Los Angeles Times report asserted that robots could replace as many as 1.7 million American truck drivers within the next decade. As automobile manufacturers and ride-sharing companies continue to invest in autonomous vehicle technology, the trucking industry may be one of the earliest labor markets to be drastically effected.

The push by truckers to increase wages and benefits may only hasten the automation of the industry.

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Ted Goodman