Tire tales from car driving and big truck driving…

May 11, 2010

Why is it that when I get a nail in my car tire it’s always in a place, near the sidewall, where they can’t fix it?

Well it seems that way, at any rate.

Bought two new tires today (yesterday at least by the time you read this). My right front tire — the one that couldn’t be fixed — had a nail in it, and the other front tire was starting to separate.

It seemed strange to me. Thought I just bought tires. But the man told me that actually two of my tires were bought in 2005. The other two I bought last July and September.

When he looked at those older tires he remarked: “we don’t sell those anymore”. Well too bad. They did seem to last me awhile.

But I’m not really complaining. I usually get tires at Les Schwab, and I like their service. And I got a hefty discount.

They don’t seem to come running like they used to, but they still seem to offer the best service around, or at least as good as anyone else.

(I’m not usually into promoting private business, but since getting good service for anything anywhere is so hard to do these days, I figure it would not hurt to recognize something positive where it exists.)

Yeah, they used to actually come running — literally — out to your car as soon as you drove up.

And as a big truck driver I have had particularly good service from them out on the road, both when I drive into one of their shops or when they come out for road service. I’ve always found their road guys to be quick and efficient. I’ve seen them replace an outside tire without even taking the wheel off plenty of times.

One time up on Highway 97 in Oregon I pulled into a Less Schwabb in the wee hours of the morning before opening time. I crawled into my sleeper and when I awoke the guy was already at work fixing my tire. Now that’s service. And I had not even called them or had any contact with them (he could spot a bad tire, though) .

And another time I was at a truck stop and had a bad tire, but the road guy told me that at that particular truck stop they did not let outside tire guys do their work there. That truck stop had a shop. But that shop was overpriced. So the road service guy had me pull out on to the on ramp to the freeway and he fixed it there — now that’s absurd, on the truck stop’s part, I think.

And I can tell you some of the major truck stops charge plenty just to fix a tire. But there is one truck stop in Oregon on I-5 that is reasonable. I recall having had to have a tire fixed there several years ago when the big boys were charging something like $30 or more and at this one I got a tire fixed for something like $6 (these figures are just approximate and according to my memory, but I can tell you the price spread is the same today).

At the trucking company where I work we used to have a tire guy who took his responsibility to the owner quite seriously and wanted to make sure the drivers did not waste tire dollars out on the road. He told me one time that the policy was that before I ever got a tire fixed or replaced that he be called, day or night, and he gave me his home number.

When the hapless tire guy out there called him in the middle of the night, he demanded: “who gave you my number?!”

He was always telling me to bring the bad tire back with me. So one time I’m hauling this old tire in my trailer but forgot it was there. I opened my back doors to back into a dock from a street up in Portland, Or. and still did not realize that tire was there. It went rolling down the street. Someone came up to me with it and asked me if it was my tire. Fortunately it did no damage to anyone.

Another time I neglected to bring back the old tire and he got mad. So the next time I was at the truck strop where I got it replaced I got the guy to give me an old discarded one and turned it in — same difference, I guess.

For a time we used to get calls at home with people asking about tires. They kept asking if we were a tire place, the name of which I don’t recall. But I finally looked that name up on the internet and sure enough it had our home phone number. The next time I got a call, I started to give the person a line as a joke, but my conscience got the better of me, and when the older sounding lady on the other end of the line asked what was she to do, I simply directed her to the nearest Les Schwab.

P.s.

And this has nothing to do with my favorite tire place, but for my part I have no use for recaps which are often put on big trucks, especially on trailers. Nearly all those big tire shreds you see on the highways the truckers call “alligators” are from recaps. For my part I think they should be outlawed. They are a safety problem. I saw one come of a big truck one time and then a car ran over it and then it went flying and busted the windshield of another car — fortunately that driver was able to safely pull over to the side of the road. But the trucker (not me, I swear) was probably oblivious to what had happened. At any rate he was long gone. And that is all I have to say about tires at this time, except that I am sure that with modern technology they could make tires that would never go flat or blow out, but then that would be the ruin of the tire business.


Why big trucks block lanes: variances in speedometers and the law that says once you slow down you keep going slower and slower…

June 8, 2009

Do you find it annoying when two big trucks occupy the lanes in front of you on the interstate and you can’t get around them?

Well, so do I.

And I spent 12 years over the road behind the wheel of a big truck.

While I cannot say that I know the complete solution for this problem, I can say that what causes it is pretty obvious.

One truck is usually going about one mile per hour faster than the one ahead of it, so the driver goes to pass, but that takes quite awhile. And if the driver in the slower truck inadvertently or on purpose speeds up, it takes a lot longer and may never happen at all.

This subject came to my mind when I read what appears to be a new regular column in my local newspaper by a local Highway Patrol officer.

He began his column by laying out the scenario:

“You’re traveling down a two-lane freeway in the fast lane (known to law enforcement as the no. 1 lane) with your cruise control set at 70 mph. Approximately a quarter mile ahead of you are two commercial big rigs in the right lane (no. 2 lane). The big rig that had been following the other moves into the no. 1 lane. Now for the next few miles you sit there and simmer as the big rig slowly passes the other truck.”

So far, so good. He described the phenomenon we all have experienced. But that is just about where he left it. Oh, he went on to note that in California the speed limit for big rigs and other vehicles towing trailers is 55 mph (compared with 70 mph for other vehicles on most freeways). He also went on to say that in California the law is that regardless of what the speed limit is, slower vehicles, even if they are traveling the speed limit, have an obligation to go to the right and let faster traffic pass.

Well that might answer the question of where the law is for the so-called “speed monitors” who travel the posted speed limit but refuse to get over for cars going a little (or a lot) faster, but it does not address that first situation he described about the trucks.

Well here it is: on relatively flat ground, most truckers are going to be going as fast as they can or as fast as they can get away with (kind of like most other drivers). In California and other states with a split speed limit, 55 for trucks and 70 for cars (in California), there is a built-in problem in that no matter where a truck is, it is going to be holding someone up.

But the problem we were looking at originally and I will zero in on is those two trucks in front of you hogging the lanes in what looks kind of like a race of two turtles.

While in California the truck speed limit is 55, the average big rig is probably traveling about 60 mph – I don’t care what anyone says, that is the de facto speed limit for big rigs. Some truckers are in a hurry because they are paid by the mile and my experience tells me that 5 mph difference can make a big difference in pay over a pay period. They may be also pressured by dispatchers to get a load delivered or picked up by a certain time (you could ignore the pressure, but who wants to lose his or her job or get a short pay check?). And then 55 is really awful slow.

But while I have waited this long to get it out, the real problem here is some kind of physics or traffic science problem I can’t explain, but I can describe. I used to think how foolish it was of me to pass another truck when I was only going a tad faster than it was, and I also knew that I risked getting a citation. So, sometimes I would slow down a little and drop back with the intention of resuming at least a speed of 55 mph (not 60 – didn’t want to catch up with that slower truck again). But what will happen every time is this: after everything settles down I’m going 45 mph, maybe behind some partially disabled car. If I speed up, I’m back behind another big truck. That does not work and is not good for fuel mileage (constantly changing speeds) or even safety.

The only solution is to do one’s best to keep running at a steady, but safe (and legal) speed and pass when one must and one thinks the job can be done in a relatively short length of time.

I think split speed limits amount to accidents waiting to happen, but except out on the open desert, 70 is probably a bit fast for big rigs (and I know some will do it and faster even so), but 55 is a tad slow when the rest of the traffic is going at least 70.

As far as one truck passing the other, even if all the truckers tried to do the posted speed limit, such as 55, not all speedometers agree with each other (you’d be surprised at the variation), so there would still be the situation of one truck going a tad faster or slower than the other. Yes you can drop back, but then that causes a chain reaction in all the traffic and the truck driver winds up going not just 55, but 45, like I said (and I don’t quite know why).

The only answers are common courtesy and obeying the law on the part of all drivers no matter what type of vehicle they are driving.

P.s.

Speed limits vary by state. Some trucks go extremely fast. But most big rigs owned by companies, as opposed to independent drivers, are electronically governed anywhere between 59 mph and 65 (especially on the West Coast). Why not 55? Don’t know if it is true, but the old story is that at least one company did cut its trucks down to 55, but the Highway Patrol complained they were going too slow, holding up traffic (I think that may have been in another state, not California, if it’s even true).


Long haul trucking in danger of decline…

April 25, 2009

I’m going to go out on the line a little here and predict that long haul trucking as we have known it for the past several decades is on its way out and it could lose ground rather rapidly. I don’t think it will disappear altogether anytime soon. But I think the combined forces of unpredictable energy costs, the global recession (that is a lot like a depression), and the move toward more energy efficiency and environmentally-friendly ways of doing things is hastening long haul’s demise.

Until or unless we find some drastically different way of moving goods trucks will of course be needed for local and even regional delivery and I imagine long haul of some goods will continue for practical reasons.

But during last summer’s diesel spike that saw per gallon prices move toward $5 many shippers started looking more seriously at using alternative means of transport, namely the railroad. Also I read one story that said that some goods coming to America from Asia that had heretofore been unloaded at Pacific Coast ports to be trucked across the nation were instead being shipped via the Panama Canal to the East Coast. The trip was somewhat longer, but the savings in fuel costs made it worth it.

Also during that fuel crisis it was reported that the produce industry in Salinas, Ca. was looking seriously at refurbishing the spur lines into the packing sheds. One packer said he recalled shipping by rail back in the 70s.

Today a freight forwarder called Railex is shipping produce via a unit train each week (and is set to add one more) from Delano, Ca. To Rotterdam, N.Y., just west of that state’s capital city of Albany. Railex also has a shipping facility at Wallula, Wa. that loads produce rail shipments destined for New York state.

The price of fuel came down, but the economy crashed in what has become the nation’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Freight levels continue to drop. The major trucking companies are reporting losses. And one small trucking company official told me that everyone is undercutting each other in rates. Good for shippers if they have anything to ship.

Of course you still see the freeways heavy with truck traffic. But ask any long haul driver lucky enough to be out there with a load and he or she will likely tell you that the wait for a return load once the destination is reached is often long.

While railroad freight, especially intermodel (truck trailers and often double-stacked containers), is down considerably, I notice from the vantage point where I live that the Union Pacific trains are hauling a steady stream of truck trailers and containers (that might otherwise be going up and down the highways).

I just read a recent article that noted that the Norfolk Southern Railroad has received financing from the state of Virginia to help it rebuild its infrastructure, the idea being to unclog the I-81 corridor through the Shenandoah Valley (and I suppose be green by reducing truck traffic too). The state estimated that within 10 to 12 years truck traffic on that stretch could be reduced by 30 percent.

And that same article (possibly planted by the railroad lobby – I don’t know) suggested that with an investment of $500 billion 85 percent of the big truck traffic on the nation’s highways could be eliminated by 2030.

One the one hand, knowing what I know from working in trucking (I am not now) for more than a decade, it is kind of hard to imagine all freight going via rail (save for local delivery), especially with the model of  ” just on-time delivery” that shippers and receivers have worked with for so long.

The whole industry has been used to being able to ship relatively small orders rapidly straight through from shipping door to receiving door and of being able to place shipping orders at the last minute (no need for time-consuming train or ship reservations).

But the pressures of environmental concerns and fuel efficiency and availability is pushing the freight shipping industry toward railroads at the moment. The continued economic decline is raising havoc as well.

I am not at all against trucks. I was a truck driver for some 12 years. Trucks certainly have an edge on speed of delivery. I note that unit train only promises five-day delivery from California to New York state. I don’t know why that is, but I do know that I hauled a load of oranges along with a team driver from Porterville, Ca. to Massachusetts in about two and a half days.

No one can accurately predict the future, but I do think that long haul trucking will not continue the way it has been operating for the past several decades and will likely lose ground for many types of freight.

If the economy were to surge back though it would be interesting to see if the railroads could really handle the volume. They certainly could not at first because the infrastructure is not there. And if the economy was booming they might continue to be more selective and not be so excited to handle such a variety of freight.

P.s.

I feel compelled to note that I first posted this piece on my Tony’s Transport Blog.


When you think you have it bad, you don’t, but others do…

April 20, 2009

Sometimes when things are not going right and the whole world seems to be falling apart around you, what you may not realize is that somewhere else people have it a lot worse. And once you are made aware of that you may feel kind of foolish or small (but maybe not better).

I think such was the case ten years ago, April 20, 1999.

It was a hot day in Los Angeles. That’s the way detective Joe Friday of the old Dragnet show might have put it.

I was a long haul truck driver. Among other things that day, I had a tough time backing in at a super crowded and narrow dock with all kinds of obstacles, such as a fire hydrant. No damage and no one hurt, but it took awhile. And then I had to wait a long time to simply pick up one pallet of organic bananas that had been sitting out on a hot loading dock (they were rejected at the other end). Finally I got out of there (and technically this was in Fullerton, but the whole LA basin, which is virtually all paved over, is all LA to me) but something was wrong. My refrigeration unit on my trailer was not working and I had much more produce to pick up (Oxnard and Salinas, probably, I don’t recall that for sure). So, the powers that be sent me to Vernon (still LA to me) to a refer repair shop. Glad I wasn’t paying the bill. At the time is was $100 just to have them look at it (wonder why your food costs so much?). I was there for a couple of hours at least (I don’t remember what the total bill was, but it was big). They tore apart the whole refer motor, literally. The guy had it in small pieces all neatly laid out. Now the computer built into the unit tells them what is wrong before they do anything. I can read the computer. It said a switch was defective. The switch was on the outside of the unit. When I swung by my home terminal in Northern California later, a refer mechanic there shook his head. He said the job should have taken all of but five minutes (breaking down on the road is costly).

While I was waiting at the LA refer repair place I could not help but think, being a long-haul trucker I was not making any money. I only got paid by the mile.

The customer waiting room was a cubby hole with a ratty chair and a TV set and, as I recall, it did not have air conditioning. It was at least in the high 90s outside. A truck driver was sitting in the chair and seemed to be mesmerized by what was on the television screen. I asked him what it was. He said there was some kind of shooting incident or attack on a high school.

Well of course that turned out to be the infamous Columbine High School shootings at Littleton, Colorado, where two teenage boys went on a rampage and shot 12 of their classmates and one teacher and wounded 23 others.

The thing that stuck out in my mind out of all of that was how long the police waited to go in. I know this ground has been covered by me and others, but that still bothers me. According to the reports I have read it took more than an hour and a half for the police to move in. The perpetrators had already killed themselves sometime before.

Of course had the police rushed in like the Russians do in hostage situations and killed innocent people in the process they would have become the villains.

But there has to be some type of compromise and tactic worked out to save innocent lives. In light of recent incidents, it does not seem that has been worked out.

But the theme of this post is when you think you have it bad, others have it far worse. Certainly in my case what I was going through that day was trivial.

And knowing that someone has it worse than you do may not always make you feel better. I was just making an observation.

P.s.

I just read an article that says there were many myths built up by various news reports. It claimed that there was no evidence that the Columbine murderers were outcasts or that they were picked on at school. It said that actually no one really knows why they did what they did. I have no real idea myself. I can only conclude that the two were psychopaths and did not separate the make believe world of things like video games and and cartoons and TV dramas from real life. Unfortunately on that dark day back in 1999 they made an unbelievable horror come painfully true.


Some inconvenient truths about truck driving…

March 26, 2009

(This is a slightly updated version of a previous blog.)

People out of jobs are going to truck driving school, an article in my local newspaper said. Been there done that. In fact, a newspaper article is what led me to my more than a decade odyssey out on the road.

Things are not as bright out there today – while there has been a big demand for truck drivers for years, with the downturn in the economy freight movement has fallen off sharply.

But I just wanted to get something in here for anyone who might be considering going the truck driving route.

Most of the entry level jobs for big truck driving are in what is called long haul. You need to realize that the rules of employment are different in that field than most others. The normal laws of pay and working conditions do not apply.

Typically, long haul drivers find themselves waiting a lot, far from home, baby sitting a truck, as I call it.  For the most part, as a long haul driver you will only be paid when your wheels are rolling. Long haul pays by the mile, not by the hour or fixed salary. Some companies do pay a little something for layover or even wait time (but usually not total wait time and such pay is usually not much, often not even minimum wage). And layovers can last for several days. I was once laid over for nearly a week, some 2,500 miles from home.

And if you don’t like wait time, I’d advise staying away from hauling refrigerated or temperature controlled freight (such as produce).  I once logged in 40 hours of wait time in one month, not counting sleeper birth or meal breaks. And I was not paid for any of it, as I recall (and if  I was it was only a few dollars).

I would discuss that issue upfront with a prospective employer (they may string you on, though).

Employers often quote cents per mile, but what they either lie about or do not tell you is that you may well not get in enough miles to make a living. It costs the employer very little to let you sit out there at a truck stop, because the employer does not have to pay you. It costs you a lot. When I began truck driving I found that a lot of drivers really were not making any money. They were simply drawing on their pay for subsistence and when it was time to get their paycheck they had little to nothing left. In fact, some of them owed the company.

Now this all sounds kind of negative. But long haul driving conditions, I believe, have improved somewhat since I got into it and got out of it.

(And for those of you who have not read my blog before, I drove truck for more than a decade. I worked in long haul for most of that time. My last job was what you might call short haul LTL (Less than a load) and paid well, but I came down with cancer, and am not able to work now.)

But I just wanted to point out some things folks not familiar with over-the-road trucking need to know. Another thing you might not have thought of is your schedule. No such thing. While some long haul drivers may have dedicated runs (going to the same place each time), most do not. In the course of a week, you will work around the clock; your hours will vary each day. That’s because pickups and deliveries are made at any hour of the day or night.

I won’t go over hours of service and log book rules in total detail, but basically under the current rules, you have 11 hours driving ahead of you before you are required to take a 10-hour break. There’s no limit to the time you can do non-driving work, but once you have reached 14 hours in one tour, you can no longer drive until you have that 10-hour break (remember, you could get to 14 hours with less than 11 hours driving, due to wait times and even loading and unloading, which you might be called upon to do or assist in, and don’t forget mechanical breakdowns and flat tires – they happen).

If you were to drive solo across the United States (and I have done that) you will find that your start and stop times roll around the clock. It would be like working at a factory but doing a different shift each day. Remember, somewhere in there you have to eat and let nature call and maybe even take a shower (maybe).

Under current rules, if you have 34 consecutive hours off, you start a week again with 70 hours available on your log book.

Some companies or dispatchers or your own greed or all three may goad you into cheating on your log book.  Or you might feel compelled to because you notice that the first to get his or her load delivered is often the first to get a reload. Do not do it! You, not anyone else, are liable if caught or anything goes wrong. The most likely scenario besides you falling asleep at the wheel and killing folks is that someone will run into you. If this happens and your log book is not up to date and/or legal, you may well get the blame under the law, no matter who was really at fault.

Then there is loading and unloading. I will say for most of time I did not touch freight. But if you do not touch the freight, you or someone (your employer) will have to pay someone to do it. It is not uncommon for drivers to end up loading and unloading on their own time and not get paid for it.

Finally, there is weather. If you will be driving over the mountains, particularly on the West Coast, you have to be prepared to handle snow chains. If you are not up to that, you have no business on the road, because you will be a danger to yourself and everyone else (there’s no shame in not being up to it, but there is in getting yourself out there and not being up to it).

I only touched the surface of this road. Most of what I wrote was negative. Ironically, I enjoyed the work immensely (although not every minute or day of it). A lot depends upon your employer and yourself and the type of freight you haul. And some feel a sense of independence out there. It certainly is not like most jobs. You are not highly supervised.

And in this time of high unemployment to have any job has become a status symbol. Just ask any unemployed investment banker (right after you ask him what the hell he did with that bonus check paid by your taxes).

Oh, and one more thing, long haul is not for anyone who wants a home life (that’s why I did not enjoy it all the time). I don’t care what employers promise you, from my experience, long haul drivers have no home life. I have heard many a long haul driver lament: “I didn’t get to see my kids grow up”.

Good luck!

(Copyright 2009)


USA’s main security threat may be Mexico and there are valid reasons to keep their trucks out…

March 25, 2009

While we are still fighting wars in the Middle East for somewhat nebulous reasons and no clear idea of our goals, the nation on our own southern border, Mexico, is in the midst of what might as well be called a civil war, with 7,000 deaths in the last 16 months, including high officials in its federal government, as well as town mayors and police chiefs, some of whom have sought political asylum in the U.S.

The Obama administration has announced a kind of token response on the border, but as I understand it, they are pulling immigration personnel from out of our interior to do so, conveniently letting the enforcement of the hiring of illegals slide as a sop to those who for some strange reason support the underground economy of illegal aliens, many of whom come from Spanish speaking nations to the south, most notably Mexico.

While some of the illegal migrants have gone back south because of the higher unemployment numbers in the USA, they face a problem in their homeland because their government is still corrupt after all these years, but it is trying to fight off drug lords, some of whom employ paramilitary against the Mexican soldiers and police.

Meanwhile, the violence is spilling across the border and is reaching into our northern cities, such as Chicago. Much of it involves illegals fighting over drug disputes, but sometimes hapless illegals, maybe not involved in the drug trade, get caught in the crossfire or become victims of kidnapings and ransom schemes, another popular line of work for criminals south of the border.

Mixed in with all this somehow is an ongoing dispute between Mexico and the United States over a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) program to allow a limited number of Mexican trucks to be able to cross the border and have a run of our country. Congress cancelled funding for the program recently, but the Obama administration has indicated it might resume the program in the future.

In retaliation, Mexico, one of our top trading partners, has applied tariffs on 90 U.S. products. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Mexico to smooth things over in the dispute and to promise the President Felipe Calderon administration there that the U.S. will help it in its fight against the drug cartels. And amidst all this, a Mexican defense official has warned the U.S. against any military incursions into his country (ala the Mexican-American War of the 1840s and the chase after Pancho Villa in the 1920s, I would suppose).

The truck program was cancelled in part supposedly over safety concerns, but probably also because the Teamster’s Union, a supporter of Democrats, was worried about the loss of American jobs.

Now before you go thinking I think this was a bad thing, think again. I was a trucker and as things stand I don’t think Mexican trucks should be allowed past our border. And I know something – not everything – about this subject, because as I said I was a trucker (and never a Teamster member) and furthermore I dealt with the border trucking scenario and know the landscape (my experience was at Nogales, Az. and Otay Mesa, Ca., and San Diego, Ca.).

Now first you need to know that our northern neighbor Canada runs its trucks throughout the U.S.

But the Canada/U.S. situation is nothing like what we face with Mexico.

A U.S. trucker can cross the border into Canada and go just about anywhere.

On the other hand, American trucks do not cross into Mexico and who would want to?

Canada is a civilized nation with the rule of law (probably more so than the USA, in some respects).

Mexico is highly corrupt (despite the efforts to clean things up by Calderon) with the bribes and intimidation as a standard operating procedure in business and law enforcement and everyday life there.

I once talked to a Mexican trucker and he told me that when he drove in his country there were no truck scales. But a policeman might stop a truck out on a lonely stretch of highway and decide supposedly by eyeballing a truck that it was overloaded and assess the fine and pocket it on the spot.

Who in their right mind would take their truck south of the border?

And working down on the border where my loads were transloaded into Mexican rigs, I got to see some of the wrecks they run up and down the highway. While not all USA trucks are up to par, many of the trucks the Mexicans use would not pass the same inspections USA trucks are given.

While they were running the pilot program allowing Mexican trucks in, I believe I saw some pretty questionable rigs running up and down our highways. I do not believe that these trucks were subjected to the same standards as USA trucks, probably due to political considerations.

Another problem is that while Canadian truckers speak English (and yes I know some of them speak French too), many of the Mexican truckers do not (they can’t even read our road signs).

(In the interests of fair play and full disclosure, I should note that some USA-licensed drivers, some of them from Eastern Europe, do not speak English. I actually watched one of these guys at a warehouse once and the freight receivers could not communicate with him. They had to make hand signals and lead him around and show him what to do with his paper work.)

And you have to understand that once you let an over-the-road truck over the border, it goes all over. It may deliver its original load into the country from Mexico at one place, but then haul other loads within the country between cities and only return to Mexico after hauling several loads.

If Mexico had actual law and order and was not corrupt, and if their truck safety standards and practices were better, it might well have a valid argument that its trucks should be allowed into our country and in turn we could also operate in Mexico.

It is unfortunate to have a dispute with Mexico because it is one of our top trading partners, but realities have to be accepted.

And back to the turmoil in Mexico. I don’t know why it has been downplayed. It threatens Mexico and it also threatens our own security.

Part of the problem is that the U.S. offers such a good market for the south-of-the-border drug cartels. Personal guns are illegal in Mexico, so guns from the U.S., to include high powered assault rifles and other powerful weapons, are basically traded from the north for the drugs from the south.

Combating the drug trade is a tough problem that we have not ever solved in the USA. I find calls to simply “legalize” illicit drugs to be dubious at best (and that was not some kind of marijuana pun – doobie is it?).

But meanwhile I don’t think we should tolerate cross border incursions, be they illegal aliens looking for work or engaged in the drug trade.

We need a military show of force at the border, as well as  a strong commitment of the various appropriate law enforcement agencies where needed to fight the drug cartels. And we should not let up on our enforcement of immigration laws at the workplace in the process.

We may well find that the biggest threat to our security is not in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan or the deserts and urban areas of Iraq but instead at our own southern doorstep.

In the long run we need to work hand in hand with the Calderon administration in Mexico, which from all reports is doing its best to fight both the drug cartels and to turn the tide on corruption that has existed so long in Mexico.

(Copyright 2009)


Union card check debate can be misleading

March 12, 2009

There’s a lot of misinformation going around on the so-called Employee Free Choice Act that has been introduced into both houses of congress.

On the one hand, the pro union side would have you believe the proposed legislation is designed to enhance freedom of choice for employees (I’m not so sure). On the other hand, the anti-union side, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, would have you believe that the unions are attempting to rob workers of their right to a secret ballot (well not entirely, maybe).

To compound all the misunderstanding a lot of liberal proponents who are not hourly employees who would likely be affected by all this are jumping on the bandwagon and pontificating on something they know not. They think they support the rights of workers, but they don’t wear the workers’ shoes.

While Wikipedia muffs it in its entry on card check, coming off as blatantly pro-union, it does a better job on its entry under Employee Free Choice Act. So if you want to get a synopsis of the whole issue read that.

But basically, as I understand it (and sometimes labor law is about as easy to read and understand as the baseball infield fly rule) as things stand now, a labor union can force a union vote if they can get 30 percent of the eligible employees to sign up for a card check. But employers can demand a secret ballot vote even if a union can get 100 percent to sign cards.

The new bill before congress would allow certification of a union without a formal vote if the union could get more than 50 percent to sign cards. “Card check” is the term bandied about by both sides.

As a side note, as I understand it, under current law a union can be decertified if 30 percent of the employees sign a petition calling for a decertification and then if a majority vote for decertification via secret ballot. All of this must be done under National Labor Relations Board oversight and rules. It can be complicated.

(Also, disputes over union votes, often involving eligibility of voters, drag on in the courts for years.)

So what does this mean to the common person? At first glance not much if you are not a union person. Of course you know that the more unionization the costlier products become, just ask General Motors.

My initial thought was chard check was an intimidating process. I mean you’re going to be approached by possibly a co-worker, someone who has more seniority, officially or unofficially, than you, or a union organizer who wants to imply you care nothing about your fellow workers if you don’t sign up.

I still think that way, but I also realize that no matter what the system, unless you eliminate unions altogether (and many would like to), there has to  be at least a posibility that a worker will will be asked to sign a petition, how else would a union request certification?

So on the card check, I think I won’t have an opinion, other than the fact that it does not interest me.

I did notice that the liberal blog The Daily Kos said something to the effect that card check was a secret ballot for employees. How so? Someone approaches me and asks me to sign a card. That is not much of a secret. It was suggested elsewhere that many employees would be tricked into thinking they were just showing a preference by signing a card, but that the actual certification of a union would require a further secret ballot vote. Not so. Under the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, 50 percent plus one sign up of cards and the union is in. The unions counter that there is still supposedly an option for workers to go the secret ballot route, but obviously the union organizers prefer the chard check route.

I have mixed emotions about unions. While I personally don’t prefer them, they may provide a kind of baseline for other workers.

The last trucking company I worked for had its union side and its non-union side. I worked on the non-union side. I was paid just as well as the union workers and I did not have to pay dues and I only had one set of bosses, the company, not the union and the company. But again, I have to believe that the union served as a baseline for wages and benefits. But under present economic conditions with a drastic downturn in freight, all that means nothing. Unions do not supply freight. (I’m using trucking as an example because that is where my applicable experience lies.)   

Unions at their best help workers get better pay and benefits and at their worst lead to overstaffing and inflexible work rules that hurt both productive workers and the employers who provide the wages. Unions sometimes force toleration of malingering in the workplace, and that hurts everyone (and I have witnessed this personally many times in many places).

For my money, employers who treat employees with respect (which by definition includes decent wages), demand a full day’s work for a day’s pay from everyone, need not fear unionization.

Right now I am not in the workforce. But if I were to return, card check would be a non-issue to me. I don’t plan on signing any union cards. I’ve always worked for the people who pay my wages.

(Copyright 2009)