Mega shippers can’t wait for automation to take your job

February 22, 2019

Tyson Fisher

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Large shippers like XPO Logistics and Amazon could not care less about the truck drivers hauling their products. That is an obvious statement to many drivers out there. However, two incidents close together in time highlight how corporations are counting down the days to full automation in the workforce.

Lately, there has been a trend involving corporations in the logistics sector openly showing little concern for their workers. For example, earlier this month, I wrote about truckers taking the hit for the “Amazon effect.” In January, I pointed out how corporations will only do good things if forced to by the law. And last November, I wrote a similar piece in response to a scathing New York Times report about horrible conditions at a XPO warehouse.

Needless to say, I’m skeptical of the motives of corporations.

XPO shuts down controversial warehouse

If you’re not familiar with what went down at an XPO warehouse in Memphis, I suggest clicking the last link above. Cliffs Notes version: To say female warehouse workers are treated unfairly is a massive understatement.

Only after public outcry did XPO decide to add commonsense policies regarding pregnancies while also increasing wages, offering more breaks and being more explicit about work hours. This solution was only temporary. The long-term fix: Cut the head off the snake.

For XPO, the snake represents human workers who keep digging into the company’s pockets for doing an extraordinary amount work. These parasites don’t think they’re getting enough money. It would be so much cheaper if we just got rid of the problem. Done and done

XPO has announced it will close the Memphis facility, leaving about 400 people out of a job. That’s their solution to workers demanding a fair wage.

According to a letter sent to employees, the move to shut down the warehouse “stems from an overall business model change initiated and completed by our customer (Verizon).” The letter refers to laying off workers as “employment separations at the facility.”

In a news release sent out by the Teamsters, an employee at the warehouse spoke out:

“My co-workers and I stood up and exposed the terrible conditions at the XPO-Verizon facility in Memphis, including sexual harassment, dangerous heat, pregnancy discrimination and worker abuses,” said Lakeisha Nelson, a current worker at the XPO-Verizon Memphis facility. “In return, XPO and Verizon are shutting down our facility and cutting our jobs. I will not be intimidated by these corporate bullies.”

Verizon and XPO royally screwed up, but the laborers are the ones who continue to suffer. Once automation takes over, neither company will have to deal with these “nuisances.”

NFI ceases operation at California port

In January, California Cartage, owned by Cherry Hill, N.J.-based NFI Industries Inc., announced that it will close its warehouse at the Port of Los Angeles in July. The decision came just days after the company was ordered to pay 14 drivers nearly $4 million in back wages.

California Cartage was recently ordered to award nearly $6 million for unpaid wages, unreimbursed expenses, meal and rest breaks, waiting time penalties, liquidated damages and interest.

All this came down less than a year after USA Today published a damaging report on port drivers making close to nothing. See the trend here? Good journalism yields positive results for Joe Shmoe of Anytown, USA.

The timing was not coincidental, with NFI’s CEO acknowledging as much (emphasis mine):

“This is a very sad day for Cal Cartage, our employees, our customers and the Wilmington community,” NFI CEO Sid Brown said in a statement. “We have been fighting, with the help of our employees, for the past four months to negotiate a deal to keep this facility open long term. This is not the outcome we wanted. Because of the Teamsters’ efforts, we now have been left with no other option but to shut down the Wilmington operation.”

Did you see that? He’s blaming the Teamsters for…umm…holding his company liable for sending hardworking truckers to the poorhouse?

In a statement, the Teamsters explained the situation in more realistic terms:

“NFI should act responsibly and stop pointing fingers at the Teamsters when it’s NFI that has consistently and persistently broken the law,” Fred Potter, the Teamsters’ Port Division director, said in a statement. “If the company is unwilling to follow the law and play by the rules, and in so doing so put the port’s proprietary interests at risk, then they are wise to vacate the property to make room for a company that will follow the law.”

Apparently, NFI would rather shut down an entire warehouse in the nation’s busiest shipping port than pay its drivers a fair wage.

Let that soak in.

As soon as trucks can drive themselves, NFI can get rid of those meddling drivers and their “fair wages.”

What corporations are doing in the meantime

It will be many years before fully self-driving trucks hit U.S. highways. Until then, corporations are finding other ways to avoid paying truckers a fair wage or paying them at all.

To start, the American Trucking Associations, which represents the mega carriers, has been lobbying for under-21 drivers. In a recent hearing with the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, ATA President Chris Spear suggested lowering the minimum age requirement for interstate driving from 21 to 18 will help solve the “driver shortage” problem.

Of course, “driver shortage” is code for “huge driver turnover rate due to poor wages.”

A good way to pay as little as possible is to hire younger people with lower wage standards. The less experience, the less they cost. Pay an experienced veteran a fair wage, or put public safety at risk and hire an unexperienced driver for less money?

Also, Americans for Modern Transportation wrote a letter to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure urging lawmakers to allow twin 33s, two 33-foot trailers hitched together, instead of two 28-foot trailers. The letter makes the following claims:

  • The efficiency gains from twin 33-foot trailers would mean fewer trucks on the road and 53.2 million hours saved due to less congestion.
  • The reduction in the number of trucks on our roads would have tangible safety benefits. Additionally, twin 33-foot trailers perform better than many other truck configurations on four critical safety measures, including stability and roll over. Research shows that the adoption of twin 33-foot trailers would result in 4,500 fewer truck accidents annually.
  • Twin 33-foot trailers can move the same amount of freight with 18% fewer truck trips, allowing consumers and businesses to realize $2.6 billion annually in lower shipping costs and quicker delivery times.
  • The implementation of twin 33-foot trailers will result in 3.1 billion fewer truck miles traveled each year, greatly reducing the impact on roads and bridges.

Those are the claims. Here’s the reality why this group wants twin 33s:

  • Fewer trucks means fewer drivers that we have to pay.

By the way, Americans for Modern Transportation sounds like a citizens’ group. It is not. It’s a coalition that includes large corporations such as Amazon, FedEx, UPS and … wait for it … XPO.

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Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.