A Rock and a Hard Place


Truckers are oftentimes squeezed between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”. On one hand, there is the pressure to deliver the load on time, and the desire to remain compliant and drive the freight legally. On the other hand, you have your bosses, managers, and dispatchers saying, “You had two days to get it there, why are you running late”?

Wintertime driving opens up the Pandora’s box of delays and conundrums. The rule, “Snow, drive slow. Ice, no dice” applies here. One driver recently told me that after getting into the thick of the snow storms out West, that he had no choice but to hold his speed down to 15 miles per hour. So, he managed to drive a whopping 60 miles in four hours. That now translates to four hours out of your 11 hours of federally mandated driving time. So, now the driver has a dilemma.

Should driver “log by mileage”, or “log it as you do it”. If you “log by mileage”, it is legal, ON PAPER. The DOT won’t harass you and they send you on your way. On the other hand, if you drive strictly by the RULES, you will be very late for your delivery or pick-up, and trust me when I tell you this….Your bosses/managers/dispatch, will NOT be giving you an “Atta boy”, or “Good job, ladytrucker” when you drive COMPLIANT.

If you feel the roads are too treacherous to traverse, and you inform your bosses/managers/dispatch that you feel it is unsafe to continue, you will get the standard reply,
“Well, the OTHER drivers aren’t ‘complaining’ “.

Now, YOU are the one out there. YOU are the one who sees with your own eyes the devastation out on the snowy roadways. YOU saw experienced drivers on their side in the ditch, jack-knifed, rolled over, rear ended into another vehicle. Yes, WE are the professional drivers, but we are surrounded by many other drivers who cause the wrecks in that type of weather. Funny, how we are considered professionals, but just have one weather related “incident”, and suddenly your “professional” status is downgraded to “unskilled dumb-ass”.

Yup, we are between the rock and the hard place.

I worked for one of the top five freight carriers in the US for five and one half years. My terminal was in New Jersey, which was also the State I called ‘home’. New Jersey had a rough couple of Winters back in 2003/2004. We barely got dug out, and our boots never got dry, before we got slammed with another snow storm. On this day in particular, the weather report was warning of 33 inches of snow. Big fat, fluffy flakes, in copious quantities, started falling early in the day. A few inches has already accumulated, and it was the kind of snow that stuck. The salt trucks were already out, frantically trying to keep the major highways clean, and a few hours later, I began my usual one hour drive to work.

One and a half hours later, I was halfway there. Being that I did not have a cel phone in 2003, I stopped at a pizzaria along the way, and while standing outside, freezing my butt off, I fumbled for the change to use the payphone. I called my boss. The conversation went along these lines, “Hey Karl, I’m fishtailing all over the place in my pick up truck. I’m having a helluva time getting into work. They’re calling for another 29 inches of snow. I don’t think it’s safe to take a T/T out in this mess, if I can’t even make it into work”. His reply was a firm and emphatic, “Get in here! We have drivers who are already on their way delivering, and more going out.”

OK. Told boss I was on my way, but didn’t know how long it would take to get there. Another 45 minutes, I figured. But I had it set in my mind, that once I actually made it into work, without wrecking my own personal vehicle, I still would refuse taking out a load. Oh, it is important that you should know that I drove a DAY-cab. NOT a sleeper truck. I was LOCAL, home every day, or every night…depending on when my shift started.

I creeped, crawled, white knuckled my way into the terminal. It snowed like I had never seen it snow since 1994. The roads were already so slick, and my little Ford Ranger was fishtailing all over the place. People assume if you have a pick up truck, that it must be four wheel drive. My Ranger had rear wheel drive, not four wheel. I was limping into work with a top speed of 10 miles per hour, if I were lucky.

Upon arrival at the Distribution Center for Home Depot, I saw that many of the day cabs were gone already. I get into the office, stomping snow off of my boots, and clothes, and again, told my manager that I did not feel that it was safe to attempt to deliver a load while we were being battered by a Winter Nor’easter.

“Look how long it took me to drive into work?!”, I said. “Nearly two hours to go 33 miles”! “Karl, it’s not SAFE to go out in that”!!!

Karl picks up the office phone and calls a boss out in Philadelphia, who at the time, was running the distribution center out there. “F.A.” gets on the phone. I explain the whole scenario to him, and get this: “Well, it’s not that bad HERE”. Argh!

I can see I was going to get zero co-operation from the people who worked for a company who brags, “SAFETY FIRST”. Infuriated at this point, I call Corporate Safety. Now, I have “F.A”, “Mike B”, and a man from CORPORATE SAFETY from ARKANSAS ganged up on me on the phone. I’m being pressured from every side to take that load out in weather conditions that were calling for 33 INCHES of snow. I was nearly in tears. In the meantime, a male co-worker told them flatly, “I ain’t doin’ it. Pound salt”!! and left. His name was Lenny. Had seven years w/ the company. I had only 4. Lenny leaves,flat out refuses to drive in unsafe conditions….no male manager questioned his decision….yah…no problem, while I’m choking back tears from being ganged up on and pressured by my “superiors”.

The end result? I stuck to my guns. But I was made to feel like an abysmal failure for “being safe”. Every day-cab local driver who went out in that blizzard got stuck, got stranded…in a day cab. No place to sleep, except uncomfortably across the seats, hopefully they carried a wooden board to use. Hopefully, those drivers packed enough food and water, and an extra blanket, (in case their truck stalled out, or mechanical problems). Is that what you call “SAFETY FIRST”??? Because I stood up for myself, and did the right thing; because I refused to be bullied by my male managers, is THAT why that particular company has put on my DAC report, “Unsatisfactory Job Performance”?

Why was my male co-worker given the respect that I was not given? Why was I psychologically “gang banged” over the phone? By the grace of God, not one of my co-workers had a weather related “incident” or accident that night, because if they had, the first thing CORPORATE SAFETY would have said before they terminated them would have been,

“IF YOU DIDN’T FEEL IT WAS SAFE, THEN WHY DID YOU ATTEMPT TO DELIVER THE LOAD”? and “CLEAN OUT YOUR TRUCK, YOUR TERMINATED”.

You can’t tell me this isn’t the most hypocritical industry in which to work. Until I see otherwise, I am a firm believer that we are truly the “Last American Sweatshop”. If we are Professional Drivers, then why are we paid ridiculously low wages, pushed to drive illegal, and no matter what we do, we are “the bad guys”.

Talk about being between a rock and a hard place!

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