HBO host John Oliver backs OOIDA stance

April 4, 2022

Land Line Staff


During an appearance on CNN in late 2021, OOIDA President Todd Spencer spoke on major issues facing the trucking industry largely relating to the supply chain.

“Most drivers get paid nothing for their waiting time, and there’s no penalty for delaying drivers,” Spencer told CNN. “It’s one of those things that’s easy to ignore.”

That message reached HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver loud and clear.

Oliver spoke with OOIDA several times before taking aim at unfair practices within the trucking industry in an episode that aired April 3.

Over the course of 20-plus minutes, Oliver touched on a number of trucking issues, including how drivers are paid, claims of a driver shortage, and exploitation by trucking companies.

The show opened by stressing the importance of trucking to the American economy.

“Trucks are a vital part of our economy, carrying 70% of the tonnage that moves around America,” Oliver said. “The drivers involved know just how much this country relies on them.”

Next, were those driver shortage claims authored mainly by trucking companies.

“The truth is their actual problem, is less a problem of a driver shortage, and more of driver retention,” Oliver said. “Hundreds of thousands of people become truck drivers every year. But hundreds of thousands also quit. Job turnover for truckers averages over 100%. In some companies, it’s as high as 300%.”

For a field this important to have a level of job satisfaction that low, it sure seems like there is a huge problem, Oliver said.

Broad view of the trucking industry

To examine that problem, and the trucking industry as a whole, Oliver detailed how drivers make a living, how they often don’t, and how companies benefit from the system.

“Truck driving was genuinely a decent job, but that began to change in 1980 when Jimmy Carter signed the Motor Carrier Act,” Oliver said. “That set up a race to the bottom in cutting wages, and 40 years later the base compensation is down 50% in real terms.”

Most long-haul drivers are paid by the mile not by the hour. This raises questions about loading, unloading and reloading, Oliver said.

“Did they really not get paid for that?” Oliver said. “And for the most part, they don’t.”

While he said this isn’t a new problem, Oliver cited a Wall Street Journal report stating long waits at loading docks have increased significantly in recent years.

“If you are paid per mile and lose half of your workday waiting, you are incentivized to try and make up for that time once you’re on the road. This can be a real safety problem for all of us,” he said.

Mandating brakes, limiting hours of service and ELDs were implemented to address these safety concerns. However, those create issues with how and when drivers can drive.

Voices of truckers

“We’re not computers,” driver Brandon Greer, who appeared in an interview that aired on “Last Week Tonight,” said. “It forces you to get up and go if you’re tired – or if you don’t feel good. It’s not about running 24 hours a day. It’s about making a common-sense decision on how you feel, how the road conditions are or whether you want to run through rush hour, etc.”

Another driver, Abe Attallah, was shown in a video calling his dispatcher to say he was falling asleep and didn’t feel safe continuing his route.

He was told by dispatchers to get some coffee, walk around the truck, or get some fresh air.

The relationship between trucking companies and drivers, who are often misclassified, creates another level of exploitation.

“They (trucking companies) don’t even have to give you time off when a family member dies,” Oliver said. “It (misclassifying) allows companies to avoid paying payroll taxes, worker’s compensation and unemployment insurance as well as the minimum wage.”

In addition, all the costs and risks of truck ownership get pushed onto the independent contractor.

Lease-purchase agreements are just another form of driver exploitation.

“If you are leasing a truck from the company you work for, you are now tethered to them,” Oliver said. “You are reliant on them to give you loads to earn money, which you are now paying back to them to pay off your lease on top of all the other expenses they can throw at you.”

We have all gotten used to the idea of free next-day shipping, but someone, somewhere always pays the price, Oliver said.

“The key way to stop this so-called shortage of drivers is to make this a job that people actually want to stay in,” Oliver said. LL

Read more Land Line and OOIDA commentary.