- Truck drivers had planned for months to do a “slow roll” around I-465 in Indianapolis.
- The protest was aimed at addressing the much-despised electronic logging mandate, which came into effect in December 2017.
- But turnout was lower than expected. It’s a worrying sign for America’s 1.8 million truck drivers, who are largely not unionized and have seen their pay tumble in recent decades.
It’s no secret that many of America’s 1.8 million truck drivers despise the electronic logging mandate, which came into effect in December 2017.
The electronic logging device (ELD) rule effectively limited the earnings of some truckers, many of whom may not have been abiding by the federal hours-of-service law. The rule arose from safety concerns, but many have told Business Insider that it’s not practical and is cutting their take-home pay.
Since the law passed, a number of protests have been planned and executed to fight the law. A nationwide truck driver shutdown has been planned for April, organized by a Facebook group called “Black Smoke Matters” with more than 25,000 members.
But the latest state-level protest of truck drivers foretells that Black Smoke Matters might not be as successful as organizers hope.
Truck drivers had planned for months to do a “slow roll” around I-465 in Indianapolis. Indiana State Police told FOX 59 that they expected 400 to 500 trucks to loop twice around I-465 on Feb. 21, moving at around 45 miles per hour to raise awareness for trucker rights.
Ultimately, 78 truckers showed up.
“With the ELDs and the hours of service that we have, there’s no flexibility,” truck driver Trish Tedrow, a slow roll organizer, told the Indy Star. The event organizers did not respond to requests for interviews from Business Insider.
Facebook groups probably won’t work as well as a labor union, experts say
Labor experts within the trucking industry have questioned if organization via Facebook groups will help truck drivers succeed.
“I would be shocked if anything was successful,” Michael Belzer, an associate professor of economics at Wayne State University who has studied trucking for decades, told Business Insider about the Black Smoke Matters protest. “I’m afraid organizing on Facebook is a little unrealistic.”
One obstacle for internet-organized strikes is the size of the trucking community. There are nearly 2 million truck drivers in the US, and they are spread across the country, spending most of their days alone.
Labor unions used to merge the interests of disparate interests, not just for truck drivers, but employees nationwide. Across private-sector industries nationwide, labor-union membership has fallen from one in three during the post-War World II era to one in 10 today, according to Jake Rosenfeld of Washington University in St. Louis.
A few decades ago, most truckers were unionized. In 1974, Belzer said there were 2,019,300 truckers in Teamsters. Now, there are 75,000. Owner-operators, who total 350,000 nationwide and average 26 years in the trucking industry, are outright banned from forming labor unions.
The decline of Teamsters follows a decline in trucking pay and working conditions. A Business Insider analysis showed that median wages for truck drivers have decreased 21% on average since 1980. In some areas, they’ve declined as much as 50%. In 1977, the mean earnings of a unionized truck driver stood at $96,552 in 2018 dollars. The median earning of a truck driver now stands at $42,480.