Show Of Force

A small business starts with a dream of becoming independent, being one’s own boss.  Michael  Conner had dreams of doing business his way, of creating his opportunity to make good on his own.  Small business is like that.  It takes on the personality of the individual who starts it, makes it work.  So after ten years of driving truck cross country for a trucking company Mike had saved enough to buy his first tractor and trailor.  He had learned enough about the business of freight forwarding to find good paying loads and put more money aside.  In five years he was able to combine the down payment and loans for two more tractors and trailers and hire two good seasoned drivers.  He even encouraged owner operators to join his trucking company.  that meant giving up driving and doing all the forwarding work of finding loads to match his fleet and drivers.  Fact was that by the end of twenty years he had twenty drivers working for him and the business was good.  The specialized pull is a tough business unless a company can get regular assignments.  Contracts for hauling drilling pipe out of Houston to West Texas could provide a turn around opportunity if a load could be found for Houston.  More likely his drivers had to be content with longer haul of equipment from Moline or Dubuque to Los Angles harbor and a return trip by way of San Diego Port of Entry containers to the midwest.

But trucking is subject to the economic condition of the country.  Recessions are hard on truckers and trucking companies.  Speciality trucking moves capital goods, construction goods, and raw factory materials from one producer to another.  A truck driver can earn a nice premium halling a fourteen foot combine from Nebraska to California.  But when corporation farms aren’t buying the demand for wide load traffic declines.  Times get tough and Mike had his hands full keeping his drivers with enough loads.  An idle truck earns no money and drivers are paid by the mile.  Normally the dry van boys leave the flatbedders alone, it’s a tough business.  But every once in a while some general manager thinks he is hot stuff and knows how to run specialized trucking.  Fact is, they generally fail.  But they wreck havoc on the little guys like Mike.  So it wasn’t long before Diamond Van Lines was trying to take as much of Mike’s business.

Fact was, Diamond Van was a union shop and union drivers aren’t profit driven.  The company can go to hell as long as they get their union wage, and that’s a fact.  Fact was Diamond Van was on the edge of bankruptcy and their GM thought speciality loads would pull them through.  See, speciality trucking commands a higher per mile price than van trucking.  See, a van can hall about 56,000 pounds of corn flakes but it can’t haul 56,000 pounds of rolled steel.  The trailer chassis is built for an even load distribution.  A flatbed tops out about 48,000 pounds but you can put that load dead center without collapsing the trailer.  Yep, different business altogether.  But the GM for Diamond Van was bound to steal as much load from Mike as he could and he didn’t can’t what it cost.

Now I mentioned the union, the Teamsters in particular.  But not everyone wanted to be a union member.  If a man wanted to be an owner operator and sort of be his own boss, then the union wasn’t going to help him.  Loads were assigned according to seniority and a certain amount of favoritism, true enough in most union shops.  An owner operator was seen as a threat to the union shop, to the teamsters.  But the GM, a Mr Bud Mathews, had a plan and that was to use the Teamsters union against Mike.  The union reps would try to sign up mikes drivers.  They knew better that to mess with the owner operators.  Meanwhile Diamond Van truck would show up at the locations where Mikes trucks were to pick up their loads and attempt to steal those loads and intimidate the drivers.  Union drivers didn’t care one way or another, they would get paid empty or loaded.  In a time when loads were in short supply drivers and freight companies try to compete of the basis of lowest cost.  Now the old ICC used to regulate loads and prices in the old days when the Teamsters had a stranglehold on trucking companies.  Now it’s the federal DOT that regulates rates and trucks and drivers.  Rates can be negotiated in advance.  And load stealing, while not encouraged, is not strictly prohibited.  Well, what about ethics?  Not in most corporate vocabularies.

You see, the problem is that a trucking company that tries to steal loads is a threat not only to the independent companies but to the owner operators.  These OOs buy their own fuel, do their own maintenance, and but their own insurance.  They get paid by the mile but at a much higher rate so they can cover their costs.  When an outfit steals a load form an OO, it’s stealing the food out of his mouth.  So it started, the complaints came in from the OOs as well as the regular drivers.  I mean, times were getting real hard.  After two months Mike was hard pressed for action.  So Mike set about to contact all his drivers.  “Boys, we got problems.  Diamond Van is trying to steal our loads and the Teamsters are trying to sign up our drivers.  Now you know I’ve always tried to do right by you and I always will.  Any man wants to go work for Diamond is free to go.  Course you will be the new hire and the first to be laid off, union rules.  I can’t promise I will make up lost wages, I operate on a thin enough profit as it is.  I don’t net more that six percent right now.  You can come in and check the boos any time you want.  But we got to fight this play for our loads.  I welcome suggestions.”

Well, that was pretty direct and the best Mike knew how to do.  the drives knew he’s take the food out of his own mouth and give it to them and that’s a fact.  Of course other specialise operators were affect just as Mike.  You know, even a company drive is an independent cuss.  He figures he’s the one sitting behind the wheel and it’s all on him.  All he asks is a little support.  But when some stupid SOB tries to cut him out, tries to drive him off the road, well, look out.  And if one trucking company is trying to steal loads then he’ll help out his competition come hell or high water.  It’s a hard life but truckers help out other truckers, period.  A driver never knows when he will need help and so he helps his fellow driver and expect the same and gets it when it comes his time.  And that’s a fact.  You don’t pass a trucker by who is on the side of the road cause he’ll remember and word gets around.  Better believe it.

You see, these GM never drove truck, never got their Class A ticket, never had to brave the winters in Montana or Maine.  They don’t risk their lives and they don’t spend weeks on end living in their trucks.  No sir, they don’t live a hard life and that’s a fact.  So about three months into the free for all, Mike was able to spread the word.  The word was that Diamond Van was stealing loads and that truckers needed to band together.  Had to do something about it.  When you steal from a man’s pocketbook he becomes galvanise to do something about it.  All it took was the use of the CB and text messaging to call truckers to come and block Diamond Van truck from leaving docks and pickup sites with stolen loads.  It was easy to intimidate the Teamsters, weren’t enough of them to worry about.  and the shippers were put on notice that nothing would go anywhere if they dishonored their original contracts.  Yes, it cost a lot of trucker some lost income but they did it for themselves.  And the GM for Diamond Van, well, he got the axe, or so I hear.  Yes sir, that’s a fact.  As for mike and his drivers, they recovered as best they could. Times would be tight but all truckers accept that.  Next year would be better.

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