No fooling: Truckers warn of April 1 shutdown
Diesel fuel prices have climbed well above $4 per gallon and the nation's truck drivers are feeling the pressure. Some are now talking about a one-day shutdown across the nation to grab the attention of lawmakers that the drivers accuse of abandoning the industry.
The American Trucking Association estimates the national goods movement truck fleet comprises more than three million trucks, delivering five million tons of goods per day. The cost to fuel the nation's fleet is estimated to be more than $900 million per day.
Despite the Citizens' Band radio waves and the Internet buzzing with the threat of the shutdown, industry officials are questioning how widespread the effort might be. Officials also do not believe the effort would accomplish its loosely defined goals of forcing the government to take action on reducing the impact of diesel fuel prices on the nation's truckers.
No one is completely certain where the buzz about the protest started. Media outlets throughout the Midwest have picked up on the call for a shutdown.
Dan Little, owner of Little and Little Trucking, based in Carrollton, Mo., recently posted the idea behind the protest on his Web site, and he said it has since spread in various forms through dozens of Internet trucker forums and blogs. He added even a radio station in Canada had taken notice as truckers in Canada were starting to talk about joining in.
'The whys of (the shutdown) cover issues that you and I as truckers, both owner/operators and employee drivers face on a daily basis,' Little wrote. 'These problems range from excessive regulations such as fuel, federal and state fuel taxes, excessive Department of Transportation regulations ' excessive insurance premiums ' the list goes on & on.'
An additional impetus for the shutdown, Little said, was a more aggressive action being talked about in trucker circles.
'You have drivers across the country that are right now ready to go out on a full-blown strike,' Little said. 'We don't want that. A strike would put us in a tailspin that we will never recover from.'
'Obviously there is a lot of anger among the drivers,' said Joe Rajkovacz, head of regulatory affairs for the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association. 'But it is misdirected.'
Rajkovacz's group, which represents more than 161,000 owner-operator members and does not officially support the protest, believes the truckers are certainly facing several critical issues.
'The underlying cause of the anger is how the fuel surcharges are not being passed along to stabilize the market,' Rajkovacz said. 'And the market is going to pay a heavy toll by forcing a lot of people out of the industry. And when this market does turn around there is going to be a shortage of drivers available.'
The irony for the cargo owners, Rajkovacz said, is they're causing these types of problems by allowing the fuel surcharges to be absorbed by trucking brokers and not paid to drivers, where the money was intended to go.
'The cargo owner's excess of inattention is creating the bedrock for a populist movement that threatens their very existence,' he said.
But Little said he and other truckers feel compelled to do something. The cost of fuel for his firm's fleet of cattle-hauling rigs has more than tripled in the past year. In addition, he said taxes on fuel and the rising insurance rates for drivers are also hitting drivers hard.
'I hear President Bush tell us 'Stay the course, Stay the course,' but how damn long can you stay the course?' Little said. 'We put those people in Washington to work for us, not the other way around.'
'I will shut the truck down no matter where I am,' wrote fourth-generation trucker Dave Ginter on an online trucker forum. 'The last fuel bill I think was $10,500. Fuel's gone up this month again so I'm expecting to spend $11,000 a month on fuel.'
Ginter goes on to say that a year ago he was averaging $5,000 a month in fuel costs. And while he said he would shut down on April 1, he is not certain of the real impact it will have.
'We are halfway through March, and I just heard about it a couple days ago,' Ginter wrote. 'So unless those who are in charge of this, whoever they may be, really get busy in the next week or two, I don’t expect to see much from it.'
Little, a third-generation cattle-hauler whose grandfather started the family firm in 1915, writes that he has heard from more than 400 trucking firms across the nation since posting the protest idea to his uscattlehaulers.com Web site.
He also writes on the site that the Industrial Workers of the World, more commonly known as the wobblies, recently contacted him and pledged they would shut down 16,000 trucks on April 1. The IWW did not respond to a request for confirmation.
Other trucker forums and blogs have mentioned other large groups that have pledged to go out on April 1, including workforces of several national trucking firms, but so far these pledges have either been denied or gone unconfirmed.
Little, for his part, does not want to predict what will happen on April 1, other than to say he will shut his firm down.
'Didn't all this start,' Little said, 'with a bunch of guys who got mad and dumped some tea in a pond? We are just trying to do something similar to get the attention of our leaders before the situation is allowed to get to point where there is no return.' ' Keith Higginbotham