Il Parabrezza (The Windshield) Post 8

To work smarter not harder, that is the thing.

Interstate 80 runs from San Francisco to New York City. In the winter it can be treacherous. I’ve seen sections in Iowa and Wyoming so littered with wrecks that you’d think you were on the airport road to Baghdad.

On Tuesday January 13, 2009, I was eastbound on I-80 near the town of Brooklyn, Iowa. The day was sunny and the road dry and clear. The ground around the road was snow covered. The median was flat and about as wide as a semi is long; at that point I-80 is itself flat, straight, and 2 lanes in each direction.

Traffic is never light on I-80. It is an artery. That day I’d call it moderate, perhaps busy, but not heavy, nor requiring special alertness.

I was in the granny lane. There was another semi about three truck lengths ahead of me in the hammer lane. I do not remember if he’d passed me to get there. Without apparent cause he veered across the median. A truck traveling at 70 miles per hour requires less than a second to cover a distance equal to its length, and so, in less than a second he was in the westbound lanes.

The driver of the westbound semi that he hit head on had no time to avoid the collision. The impact was so forceful that eastbound driver’s tractor, which weighs 9½ tons, rose into the air above the height of the oncoming truck, 13½ feet. His cab shattered. Then everything was hidden from my view by flying snow.

I passed the wreck and tried to pull over to call 911. A four wheeler in front of me had the same idea. He moved to the shoulder and braked, I had to maneuver hard around him so as not to flatten his ass like an empty tin can.

I made the call. It was answered immediately, but I was forwarded to another dispatch location. That location rang and rang and rang. I suppose there were many of us trying to phone in the accident. Finally, there was an answer. The respondent already knew what was about.

Westbound traffic had stopped.; the westbound side was closed by the wreckage. There were plenty to help. I drove on.

One of the drivers died according to a news report (www.wcfcourier.com/articles/2009/01/17/news/breaking_news/doc4971f4d3439af652442703.txt). I do not know why the eastbound driver lost control of his vehicle. I would guess that he fell asleep at the wheel with his cruise control set. I observed no attempt to take corrective action once his truck left the road. I gather the investigation is still ongoing.

Over-the-road truckers, long haulers, are, for the most part, paid by the mile. There are other arrangements. Some drivers are paid by a "percentage of load revenue method", for instance. Whatever the case, it works out that the more you drive, the more you are paid. The less you drive, the less you are paid.

The law allows drivers to be behind the wheel a maximum of 11 hours a day, and they can work a total of no more than 14 hours a day. This stands in contrast to the 8 hour workday expected by workers who are covered by Federal Wage/Hour rules. Wage/Hour rules do not apply to truck drivers.

So, there is an inherent tension for the long hauler. Drive more to earn more conflicts with the legal limit on how much you may drive and, thus, earn.

It is quite possible to run yourself to ragged even working a legal 14 hour day. And it is very tempting to run over your legal hours because it’s the only way to make more money, and sometimes you must do so just to stay on schedule. (I don’t know any rich drivers by the way; it’s just about impossible to motor your way to a fortune.) If you’re caught over hours by the law, there’s a penalty.

There is an easy and obvious solution to this, at least as regards mileage and ‘percentage of haul’ drivers: require that these drivers be paid by the hour. Most assuredly, if you stop paying them, they will stop driving.

Why, then, does the law not move to do this? The conclusion is, I think, that it would cost more to do so.

Can Parecon ideas inform an organizational structure that will keep truckers from driving themselves to death, or killing others? Here is terrible story about a trucker found criminally culpable for the deaths of 7 children. He fell asleep: www.thetrucker.com/News/Stories/2008/11/22/Jacksonvilletruckerwhokilled7kidstriestofindpeace.aspx. This very affecting account gives particular context to a recent Teamster’s action.

On January 9, 2009, Teamster employees of YRC Worldwide (NasdaqGS: YRCW) approved a 10% wage reduction in exchange for a 15% stake in the company by the Teamsters union. YRC Worldwide is the parent company of Yellow and Roadway Freight, among others. It is in trouble, and will close this year with a possible loss of $1billion on declining sales. The union concessions will save it $220-250million. Non-union worker concessions will save an additional $75-85million. (See: www.thetrucker.com/News/Stories/2009/1/9/TeamstersvotetomodifycontractwithYRC.aspx).

This is a tangle. Clearly these wage concessions mean that the workers must work more to earn as much as they have previously. Moreover, the union is, ironically, in the position of wanting to maximize the labor extracted from each worker because its equity interest will be increased as productivity increases. So, drivers drive more, presumably. The only apparent constraint on their activities is law enforcement, which is more often remedial than preventative.

Not exactly Parecon.

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