The real cost of Yellow’s demise

August 11, 2023

John Bendel


It’s not easy to watch a trucking company like Yellow die, to see dispatchers’ chairs empty, computer screens blank, and drivers’ room vending machines unplugged and waiting to be taken away. It’s sad to walk silent halls past empty offices and lunch rooms where so many people spent their working lives, where so many personal stories played out, where people talked, laughed and argued over the years never imagining it would end.

It’s sad to see almost any business shut down, but even sadder in LTL trucking with its drivers on the highways, sure, but also on local streets, in neighborhoods, industrial parks and shopping malls where they dealt with all kinds of people and all kinds of craziness all day every day.

In LTL, emails, texts and phone calls fly as good people play whack-a-mole against never-ending snafus, especially in the afternoon as they try to cover pickups with customers calling: “Where’s my truck?”

Some share a kind of fox-hole camaraderie that simply doesn’t exist in other businesses.

No, I haven’t seen Yellow terminals shut down, but I did see it happen to a company I worked for – empty offices swept clean and a platform with only a stray pallet or two here and there. For me, the saddest thing was to see drivers take their personal things from their trucks, punch out, and walk through the gate to the parking lot for the last time. I’ve seen the trucks parked in neat rows as unnatural silence settled in, unbroken by sounds of switchers in the yard or forklifts on the platform.

But there’s nothing nostalgic or misty about pulling out of that parking lot not knowing where your next paycheck will come from or how long it will take. Yeah, there’s unemployment insurance, but that’s temporary and probably not enough. How will you cover the rent, car payment, groceries and the kids’ back-to-school stuff?

My God, have you seen today’s prices?

You’ll put what you can on a credit card, of course, but how many years will you be paying that monthly minimum? Will you ever climb out from under the debt? I was there with my young family in the recession of 1974 when the knot in my stomach remained for that entire year.

Multiply that by 30,000 and you have just a hint of what has happened at Yellow. It has happened to 30,000 working people across the country, not because they didn’t work well or hard enough, but because people being paid obscene wages made some bad decisions.

Top executives at Yellow took on too much debt buying assets they then failed to integrate into a profitable whole. Their mismanagement produced a poor service they had to price below everyone else. To survive, never mind thrive, a unionized carrier must provide a premium service. Yellow didn’t come close.

Those people feel bad, I’m sure, but their homes, cars, and private equity investments are secure. They can feel bad on vacation in Switzerland or while gambling in Macau and while their kids attend schools that charge more tuition than some of their drivers earned in a year.

Some Teamster leaders feel bad as well. But others openly wanted Yellow to fail, and when they very publicly stopped Yellow’s consolidation effort in July, they delivered the coup de grace. Shippers who failed to route their freight away from Yellow at that point simply weren’t paying attention.

The company and union folks can argue about all that in court for a few years as most Americans move on to other concerns and crises. Hell, they already have.

But not the 30,000 working people betrayed by two institutions that in exchange for labor and dues, promised to sustain and protect them. Many now face deep sacrifices and life-altering changes just to keep food on the table. Some will be recruits for the gig economy or maybe for the big truckload carriers. Talk about bad choices.

For them, this crisis, this personal disaster, isn’t going away any time soon and certainly not with yesterday’s headlines. LL