The hot, humid Prairie day dawned over one of America’s corporate behemoths.
America runs on big trucks, but there is a dearth of safe, well-lit parking in this country with sanitary facilities, running water and a toilet for the drivers of those big trucks. The situation is no better than a third world country. In fact, third world truck drivers may have it better because they have no rules, so they can make do with whatever situation they can find. We have lots of rules, and the rules are increasing, but few places to safely and legally abide by those rules. If we break the rules we can lose our livliehood.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is reviewing proposals to change the Hours of Services rules which govern commercial drivers. These new rules will be even more difficult to follow because of the lack of parking.
Trucking is the most visible indicator we have of the health of our economy. It is the economy. When you see a big truck driving down the highway, instead of thinking “$#@%^& truck”, think “here comes my job”. Without the big trucks, there is no ice cream in stores, no televisions to watch the big game, no furniture, no toilet paper, no clothing. We have hauled, in the past three years, the entire manufacturing chain from raw materials, scrap and recycled paper and metals to the most expensive electronics.
States continue to close their rest areas. Rest areas have been transformed over the years into a state promotional and sales tool, but rest areas are there to provide a safe haven, a stopping place, particularly for big trucks. Minnesota’s government has shut 60 rest areas over a budgetary dispute. The governor doesn’t think it’s an essential service, but he still has a toilet to use. Oklahoma has a rest stop where the rest rooms are only open from nine-to-five. Arizona closed its rest areas, but the citizens forced their government to re-open most, the same in Virginia. Many states are closing some rest areas to save money. But sense can prevail, in a decision seemingly impossible to imagine from elected government, Connecticut politicians recently said no to its Department of Transportation proposal to close seven rest areas to save money. The State Legislature said if it was going to demand safety from truckers it had to provide its safe havens. Thank you.
If you want to “feel” the inconvenience that truckers live with, the next time you need to use the restroom, while at work, get into your car and drive to the nearest McDonald’s, except the parking lot has a barrier to keep your car out. Now what?
WalMart — a source of consternation since my consumer reporting days because I could not buy the argument that driving down the cost of labor to provide cheap consumer crap that we really don’t need is a long-term economic benefit to the country’s citizens — has become America’s defacto truck stop.
I hate to talk about this out-in-the-open secret. Already a growing number of Wal-Marts are adopting the more gentrified design of parking lots with landscaped curbs, potted with trees, the kind of landscaping that a big truck cannot negotiate.
The knock against Wal-Mart is that it has created its own customers, it pays peanuts to its mostly female and elderly workforce. The company’s own workers are then forced, because of their wages, to shop at the company store. In the beginning of industrialization, America’s workers were enslaved because they could only spend their earnings at a company store. The company, got all its money back. When the economy became more sophisticated and workers began to have 401K s for retirement savings, they were required or coerced into saving their money in their employer’s stock. Another enslavement that finally ended.
It’s true, Wal-Mart in many cases, either by volume or beating up its suppliers, is cheaper than other retailers, but the overall cost, in my opinion, is too much for the community. I love being a business-owner, MacGyver and I have two, we are jazzed by profit, we spend an enormous amount of time trying to figure out how to increase revenue and reduce expenses. But we also realize that there is a cost to having a solid community, which means a place where people work receiving incomes that allow them to provide for their families. There must be balance. Fairness. America will be a lousy to place for the rich to live if there is no vibrant middle-class. The middle-class pays in the end for everything, to me the choice is somewhat higher prices to cover wages or higher taxes to cover food stamps.
Driving across America we see the middle class has lost ground. Numbers reported by the US Federal Reserve and the US Census Bureau shows despite the huge growth in the 80s and 90s, American middle-class workers are worse off economically than in the 60s. Wages have stagnated. Debt is still oppressive. Make your blood boil, click here and see how productivity has surged by wages have stagnated.
The debt-to-disposable income ratio has slipped from 130% at the height of the recent bubble, where we stripped our homes of equity to buy a lifestyle, to 115%, but that’s still more than the 90% in 2000, the 80% in the late 80s or the 60% in the 70s when families enjoyed the real power of wealth, savings.
My pledge, since becoming an over-the-road truck driver, is that I no longer publicly badmouth Wal-Mart. This morning with no other alternatives, tired from driving and handling our high-maintenance load, Wal-Mart was there with its security cameras and bright lights flooding the parking lot.
When I woke, I walked inside the Super Center to the restroom. A clean restroom where I used the toilet, washed my hands and face and brushed my teeth.