Saturday, June 29, 2013

Log Books And Capitalism

Some new logging rules take effect Sunday night at midnight, the most draconian being a rule that requires you to take a half hour break after the first eight hours of your work day. Drivers are complaining that it will cut down on the number of hours they can log, i.e. the amount of money they can make, and trucking companies are complaining it will cut into their productivity. They are both right, but just as worse is that the new rule is a further refinement of the US Department of Transportation's attempt to manage driver's schedules according to pseudo science and a complete disregard for the realities of Capitalism.

It all began a few years back when the DOT instituted a major fiddling with the log book rules intended to get drivers on a 24 hour "circadian" schedule. They want drivers to have a regular awake-asleep cycle, and are trying to force this on us with logging rules.

The problem is, Capitalism, with its insatiable need for the products trucks deliver, doesn't care about drivers' awake-asleep cycle. Capitalists want trucks to show up when it's convenient for them, basically when it's cheapest. Sometimes you make a pickup at 7 a.m. and deliver it the next day at 7 a.m., but then, as often as not, you'll sit and wait until 4 p.m. to make your next pickup, then drive a couple days and deliver that at 4 a.m.

That's because of how Capitalism works. Many businesses are on daytime hours, but many are not. Take grocery warehouses. US consumers spend a major percentage of their wages on groceries, which means a major percentage of what trucks haul are groceries. The big grocery chains like Smith's, Safeway, Wal Mart, all have big regional warehouses, and they are kept stocked by over the road semis. The warehouses are busy places designed to handle a couple hundred semi loads a day.


If you pick up a load of Georgia Pacific's Brawny paper towels in Minnesota, or Bush's Baked Beans in Tennessee, or Dole bananas at the port of New Orleans, or some kind of produce from California, no matter when it's picked up, the grocery warehouse wants it delivered at between midnight and 4 a.m., and you'll have an appointment sometime during that time.

At your appointed time you back into a dock, and as soon as you're unloaded, one of the grocery chain's trucks is waiting to back into the same dock, and the warehouse people begin loading his truck so he can deliver things to one of the chain's individual stores.

They do it this way so one warehouse crew can handle both inbound and outbound loads -- their crew of fork truck drivers, pickers and checkers (pickers = people who get stores' loads ready, checkers = people who count everything coming in and going out of the warehouse). The same crew can unload the incoming bulk groceries and then load the orders going to the stores, and, they can do both at one set of docks.

And Wal Mart warehouses, for example, have inbound and outbound trucks coming and going around the clock.

DOT wasn't thinking about Wal Mart or grocery warehouses when they tried to get everyone on a 24 hour schedule. To follow their theory, all the trucks will have to unload and load at 7 a.m. The grocery store chains and Wal Mart will have to install another set of docks in all of their warehouses, at a cost of millions, and hire another crew of fork truck drivers, pickers and checkers for every warehouse at a cost of millions. 

The randomness that requires a driver, after delivering to a food warehouse at 3 a.m., to take a load that delivers at 7 a.m. at a factory that makes furniture, and after that, at a warehouse for industrial supplies that delivers at 10 p.m., then another grocery warehouse load, is built into trucking companies' dispatch systems, so they can efficiently allocate their trucks to the varied demands of Capitalism. As a driver you get used to it or get another job.

Log rules used to allow you to stop and take a nap if you got tired. New logging rules, which are an attempt to make sure you don't get out of a 24 hour circadian cycle, make you keep going. You have to keep driving if you're tired. The log rules force you to.

If the new rules remain in place, the trucking industry will have to significantly change and Capitalism will have to restrict itself to a set schedule. Consumers will have to pay twice as much for groceries, and for all kinds of other things, too, as trucking companies are forced to expand their fleets and hire more drivers. The new rules have already created a shortage of drivers, so driver's wages will have to increase substantially. Capitalism can't countenance any of this, and I imagine the whole economy will come tumbling down eventually if the new rules remain in place.

Eventually, the DOT will have to back down, I think, when the consequences of the new regulations are more widely known and are blamed on the DOT. Capitalism will force its logic onto the DOT. The impetus won't come from drivers, who as a group are anti union, anti organizing, or from the trucking industry, which because of similar ideological leanings has left itself in a position where everyone tries to underbid each other, basically having to fight over the scraps that are tossed to it. When Wal Mart sales decline because of it, it will change, or when there are riots in front of Smith's stores, it will change.

Meanwhile these newest log rules will affect me in certain ways. I meet a truck in Holbrook every night, which is coming from Phoenix with freight for the company I contract with. I leave Albuquerque at 8 p.m., and leave Holbrook at 3 a.m., seven hours after I have gone "on duty" according to my log book. The new rules state that I have to take a half hour break before 8 hours is up. That means I will have to take a 30-minute break before I return to Albuquerque.

But if I don't get back to Albuquerque at 7 a.m. with the medical supplies I have on board, a crew of delivery van drivers sits and waits, and pharmacies don't get things they need when they need them. The company I contract with has contracts that require it to makes its deliveries by 10 a.m., so its contracts, likewise mine, could be put in jeopardy.

So I will have to leave Albuquerque earlier -- i.e. get less sleep -- so I can get to Holbrook earlier so I can take the half hour break there, or I can cheat on my log book. If the Phoenix truck gets to Holbrook at the same time as I do, instead of having to sit for a half hour before I start back to Albuquerque so I have the required break logged, I can change my log book to show that I left Albuquerque earlier and got to Holbrook earlier.

Drivers are becoming more wary about cheating on their log books. It's not just the cost of a ticket any more. It's not even the points on your license, although most insurance companies won't insure you now if you have more than two tickets. It's some other new things. One is that the federal DOT now keeps track of everyone's record, of driver's individual records and of companies' overall records. This will affect how closely you're monitored by law enforcement, and your ability to work. Another is that you can be tracked across the country now. If you go past a weigh station in one state at a certain time, they might know in another state what time it was. They have that ability now. They don't always make use of it, but they can, and if you've changed your log book, they might well know.

Awhile back I wrote a web log entry about weigh stations. These are places where kind, helpful, good looking public servants not only weigh your truck to see if you're overweight, but where they also from time to time check your paperwork, your bills, your permits, all of it, to make sure it's all in accordance with the myriad of legal requirements affecting trucking and shipping.

Including your log book. In that web log entry I wrote about the dread that comes over a truck driver as he approaches a weigh station, because of all the potential tickets he can get, the potential delays, the possibility of getting "shut down," of your new DOT safety rating being affected. I mentioned in my web post that I put my seat belt on when I get close to a weight station, because you can get a ticket for that, too.

The Arizona weigh station on I-40, which I pass by every night, always closes at 11p.m., so it's never open when I get there and I can just sail on by. But immediately after I wrote that web log entry, that very night, the Arizona weigh station was open late. They were just checking everyone's registration and weight. When mine were OK I was let go with a smile. This went on for exactly one week, then the Arizona weigh station was closed again at 11 p.m., and I haven't had to stop there since.

So no, I'm not going to cheat on my log book. I never have. I never will. God bless America.






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