Tariffs and the Trucking Industry

Officials at some of the U.S.’s biggest trade gateways are concerned that new restrictions on steel and aluminum imports could be detrimental to industries that rely on those raw goods– the trucking industry included. Automobile and auto-parts manufacturers in the Southeast region rely heavily on ports for importing the raw components of their goods, as well as the exportation of finished products. Car manufacturers, and all the people involved in that process, areĀ  a large part of our global trade. Under these new tariffs, these companies cannot operate at the same levels they were before the tariffs were approved, which will be reflected in the economy if our trade partners decide to implement retaliatory measures. Should our trade partners institute their own tariffs, the agricultural industry could be affected as well. Most likely, the U.S. steel and aluminum restrictions will not just slow down the import and export of metals, it will affect almost every facet of trade: food, clothes, wood (and wood products), plastic, etc…

The tariffs will also affect jobs in some areas, most notably in the Northwest, where around 40% of the jobs are related to international trade. Experts in that region are worried that blanket tariffs will risk the job market, as well as the overall quality of life. The biggest concern is over retaliation and the subsequent spike in consumer prices. If consumer prices are raised, it will be mirrored in the costs of the trucking industry. In the long term, the United States may see a loss in cargo volume and jobs that depend on it; from port and dock workers, all the way through the chain of suppliers. There is no doubt that the industry will find a way to navigate these circumstances should they arise, but it certainly will not come easily. There is the possibility that the country can displace the loss of imports with domestic production, and the transportation industry will play a major role should that be the case.

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Written By: Shayla Powers

The Problem of Port Trucking

The Problem of Port Trucking

In a recent investigation, USA Today found that port truckers on the eastern coast have been forced to work under inexcusable conditions. There is a growing, consumer-driven interest in the way that our products are made; whether it be a preference for humane manufacturing, American made, Eco-friendly, etc., most Americans care deeply about the products that they buy. But there is almost no attention to the way that they are transported, even amid an escalating problem with the transportation industry. Drivers work longer hours for less pay, and while there is legislation and rules in place to prevent such exploitation, companies are particularly good at evading them. Port drivers are often trapped into abusive labor contracts and lease-to-own agreements without knowing what they are agreeing to beforehand, whether it be from language barriers or threat of job termination.

The USA Today article stated that the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports in southern California account for 37% of container traffic into the United States and drivers at these two ports are subject to some of the worst conditions. The drivers are overworked and underpaid, and have little to no leverage to improve their situation– the article likened their plight to modern indentured servitude. The lease-to-own contracts leave them in debt and their low wage insures that they are unable to leave the position, even if they wanted to. Due to the high amounts of debt, fees, and fines, many drivers end up losing their rigs anyway.

Trucking companies find any and every loophole available to avoid treating their drivers like human beings. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the government regulates a minimum wage ($7.25) and maximum number of hours per week (40) for employees, but these trucking companies do not classify their drivers as employees, but independent contractors, which allows them to overwork and underpay them. On the rare chance that legal action is taken against them, companies have been known to shut down and reopen under a new name in order to sidestep paying back wages. Additionally, longshoremen unions are jacking up worker’s wages, which drives up consumer prices. All of these problems fall onto the backs of truck drivers, and while there have been some remedies proposed in Congress, we have seen little progress. It is questionable whether or not governmental pressure would even alleviate these problems, since trucking companies have evaded intervention in the past.

The USA Today investigation into this issue makes a persuasive case for a reform in the trucking industry, particularly on the eastern coast. Consumer interest in the products that they buy should not end with manufacturing, and retailers concerned with image should be more vocal as well.

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Written by: Shayla Powers