May 12, 2008: Those of us who work in transportation don’t have to be the victim of the downward spiral of wages and working conditions that is hitting so many of our union brothers and sisters.
Many businesses are adopting “just-in-time” delivery. The idea is to cut down on inventory and get the goods to where they’re going right when they’re needed—be it raw materials or a finished product going to the store.
Employers are using automation in warehouses and transportation to cut down on jobs. But those of us left standing in the transportation industry are in the catbird’s seat. We’re more critical to the smooth flow of goods across the globe than ever before.
Keep in mind that the transportation sector includes all the support groups from clerks to mechanics to waste haulers.
A Fragile System
It’s no accident that the term “fragile” is always used when talking about just-in-time delivery. One delay can lead to many more delays.
That gives us power.
There is a major shortage of truck drivers in this country. The spiraling cost of fuel is driving a lot of independents under, and the big trucking companies will emerge dominant. The degradation of master freight agreements can be halted and reversed. Union organizers must aggressively exploit this upheaval in the trucking industry.
In rail, we’re in the middle of a five-year cycle during which 50 percent of our entire workforce will reach retirement age. The carriers can’t keep up with new hires—and it seems that the younger generation actually expects to have a life outside the railroad.
Higher fuel rates are fueling higher rail traffic. The Federal Railroad Administration is on the verge of imposing mandatory off days. And customers are demanding scheduled service. This is the perfect storm for major wage and benefit gains!
Sure, we’re in an economic downturn and most Teamsters are not feeling our power right now.
But this is actually a time for optimism for workers in the transportation sector. We are not lucky to have a job—the employers are lucky to have the few of us who are able to meet the demands in this sector. Let’s take our rightful place as the backbone of organized blue-collar labor in the 21st century.
by Hugh Sawyer
BLET Div. 316