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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

April 8, 2013 at 9:50 AM

Keep on truckin’ — view from a tough business

Last week I wrote a commentary on the deplorable working conditions of short-haul truckers at the Port of Seattle. The drivers, who face rotten wages and lack of benefits, are also only allowed to use two portable toilets at the terminal entrance. This brought an interesting response from my go-to guy in the trucking industry, Steve Gordon of Pacific-based Gordon Trucking. He said I “should keep in mind those deplorable restroom facilities are not at all uncommon in our industry in general.”

There are plenty of loading docks at Fortune 500 companies where we do work regularly where our relatively more “professional” drivers in our segment of the business are told that the restrooms aren’t for them.  Then to add the cherry on top, you get municipalities like those down here in the Sumner/Auburn/Kent valley that have ok’d lots of warehousing, but won’t OK a truck stop or rest area.

Where do they think truck drivers are supposed to park and take rest breaks? They can’t merely levitate outside these facilities for hours on end. So we then end up with trucks parked on freeway off ramps and city streets, neither of which is a good thing, further reinforcing that negative perception and making it less likely to get an adequate facility.

We’re lucky to have a terminal here, most folks picking up and delivering don’t.

Also saw some of the comments about on-dock rail. If the local population was up in arms about a tunnel or local stadium deal, try laying some new tracks in Seattle.  Good luck.  I’m biased, but most people don’t grasp the fact that EVERYTHING in their home and that they purchase moved on a truck at some point.  That box of Tide didn’t appear at the local Target via train, they don’t deliver in most neighborhoods. .. .Rail is a great product in it’s niche, but they only do about 20 percent of the heavy lifting in transportation in our country.

Lastly, for all the substandard treatment of the folks in the drayage world, it’s also a part of the great American dream; those are immigrants starting on the only rung of the ladder available to them and pulling themselves up like countless American generations before them. Last year I got the chance to attend the US Open down in San Fran with one of our fuel vendors (I know, how very 1% of me…).  One of their other guests was a Hispanic gentleman from Southern California.  He has a 75 truck fleet that he built from the ground up. He was a Cuban refugee working as a dishwasher in SoCal and living with his grandmother initially. Decided that wasn’t the life he wanted and got a job driving a truck. After a few years, the owner sold him that truck and he was in business for himself. He recruited some of his fellow drivers he knew to go to work form them and he was off. He now has a sizable business and is very successful. I know plenty of others who started from equally humble beginnings including my own family (not me certainly, but my father and grandfather).

He’s the expert. I still think the Port commissioners are tone deaf on this issue. And the research and data are clear: Economic mobility in this country is much less than thirty years ago.

And Don’t Miss: Falling labor-force participation weighs on growth | Washington Post

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Mudslides meet railroad

And we just can’t get it fixed

First World meet Third World


Comments | More in Port of Seattle drivers shutdown, Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, Railroads, Transportation


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