Trucking And Blue-Collar Woes
Paul Krugman talks unions:
Trucking And Blue-Collar Woes
MAY 23, 2017 5:11 PM May 23, 2017
What with everything else going on, this Trip Gabriel essay on truckers hasn’t gotten as much attention as it should. But it’s awesome — and says a lot about what is and isn’t behind the decline of blue-collar wages.
Trucking used to be a well-paying occupation. Here are wages of transportation and warehousing workers in today’s dollars, which have fallen by a third since the early 1970s:
Why? This is neither a trade nor a technology story. We’re not importing Chinese trucking services; robot truck drivers are a possible future, but not here yet. The article mentions workers displaced from manufacturing, but that’s a pretty thin reed. What it doesn’t mention is the obvious thing: unions.
What’s amazing at the same time is the increase in demand for qualified long-haul truck drivers. One would imagine that, with the increased demand, one would see some up-tick in wages for truck drivers since they collapsed to the 1995 and then have stayed at that same level for the past 20 years. One would have to conclude that truck drivers are the last fully competitve industry in America and their wages (and only their wages) are subject to that competitive pressure. The prices for their vehicles, insurance, fuel and tolls certainly haven’t declined during that period. There must be a doctoral dissertation lying buried somewhere in this data — at the very least an HBS case study.
The trucking firms began increasingly to lease their trucks to drivers who then became owner-operators as independent contractors (can you say Uber?) leading to the competitive wage drops simply because owner-operators with leased trucks from the tricking firms were not subject to union contracts and collective bargaining. Owner operators could also hire a driver on a part-time or per trip basis at lower the Union scale Thus these became sole proprietor small business’s.
The trucking firms used a tried and true divide and conquer strategy, and divide & conquer always works with labor to pit one person against the other.
Nobody would argue I think that when 1935 Congress passed the NLRA(a) it consciously left criminal prosecution of union busting blank because it desired states to individually take that up in their localities. Conversely, I don’t think anybody thinks Congress deliberately left out criminal sanctions because it objected to such.
Congress left criminal sanctions blank in US labor law because it thought it had done enough. States disagree? States are perfectly free to fill in the blanks protecting not just union organizing but any kind of collective bargaining more generally — without worrying about federal preemption. Don’t see why even Trump USC judge would find fault with that.
It can be that easy. Late thought: if nobody (academics, journalists, politicians) can get off their duff on this — maybe time for unions to get making union busting a felony on that ballot wherever this is possible.
The Teamster’s Union cut it’s own throat when it endorsed Reagan in 1980. Of course, Carter wasn’t much of a friend to the unions either, which really came back and bit him that year.
Another word to add is “intermodal”. My nephew is a data scientist and former top operations and finance guy for major railroad and trucking companies and probably is responsible for directly killing more jobs than anybody outside the vulture capitalism world.
20 years ago some cargo had to go by truck, broken cargo, small load, and most referigerated. Now the railroads can take any container and seamlessly pass them back and forth with shipping and trucking. And importantly only have two people transporting hundreds of double stack trains (with industry pushing to eliminate the second guy).
Sure those workers are union as are many of the people who do the transfer from one mode (shipping) to others (e.g railroads). But you are talking dozens of crane operators at a major port vs the thousands of longshoremen needed 50 years ago.
Trucking today. You can make $70,000 a year but must be with the truck 5000 hours a year. No family life. So many other jobs require a skill beyond the commercial driver’s license. Many entry drivers lack other skills. A $14 an hour wage. In 1975 a Teamster in California made more.
So unions yes. As the container revolution came along local business agents gave such bad advice to locals. AND senior union people knew it was bad advice but older union drivers supported policies that were going to end their union employment. Kind of current trend older voters seeking a return to a 1950’s white middle class?