A truck driver protest that was supposed to rock Indianapolis had fewer than 80 trucks — and it's a worrying sign for the vulnerable group of workers

  • 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.

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Truck drivers say the latest measure to keep roads safe has left them ‘chained up,’ ‘more reckless than ever,’ and unable to support their families

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, organised 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 organisers 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 organiser, told the Indy Star. The event organisers did not respond to requests for interviews from Business Insider.

Facebook groups probably won’t work as well as a labour union, experts say

Labour experts within the trucking industry have questioned if organisation 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 organising on Facebook is a little unrealistic.”

Read more:
Strikes don’t usually succeed without a union – but a group of 15,000 truckers are hoping to prove the opposite

One obstacle for internet-organised 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.

Labour unions used to merge the interests of disparate interests, not just for truck drivers, but employees nationwide. Across private-sector industries nationwide, labour-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 labour 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 have declined as much as 50%. In 1977, the mean earnings of a unionized truck driver stood at $US96,552 in 2018 dollars. The median earning of a truck driver now stands at $US42,480.

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