- Roughly 70 truckers slowed traffic in protest on a Houston interstate Monday.
- The independent truckers say brokers haven’t paid them for completed work and continue to underpay.
- Houston police arrested one protester and issued citations, and they say they’re investigating the wage-theft claims.
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Houston police are investigating claims of wage theft by truckers who blocked interstate traffic in Texas’ largest city on Monday.
Local media and industry publications reported up to 70 independent truck drivers were involved in the protest, which briefly stopped traffic on Houston’s east loop before being broken up. Drivers said freight brokers, who arrange loads and payment, were dragging their feet on paying for completed work.
“The brokers are the ones who are breaking the economy and breaking truck drivers; they are killing us, literally,” Addiel Santos, an independent owner-operator, told the industry news site Freight Waves.
“Brokers are paying for trips from Houston to Midland-Odessa like $US1,800 to $US1,900 before. Right now they are paying $US700. A trip from Houston to Odessa costs me $US400. If I get a flat tire, need road service, I have to pay out of my pocket, and still only get $US700,” Santos said.
Police arrested one driver and issued citations to the others for blocking traffic, police said.
“These are independent drivers who were protesting nonpayment by companies that have hired them to move goods,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said in a news briefing after shutting down the protest. “It’s an ongoing problem, but this is no way to fix that problem by engaging in an illegal activity.”
The protestors blocking traffic were cited and one person was arrested for inciting a riot. There is a distinct line between the First Amendment and criminal offenses.
We have been told brokers are not paying for work completed. 1 of 2 https://t.co/UvvQ35ZlDx
— Chief Art Acevedo (@ArtAcevedo) April 20, 2020
Across America, truckers have been hailed as heroes from pulpits as visible as the White House for keeping essential goods moving throughout the country as the coronavirus prompts lockdowns virtually nationwide. However, with an economic slowdown accelerating, many independent truckers, those who work from load to load instead of for a company, have been left with little instruction from officials – and few options to maintain their own health while still working.
And while other small groups have protested various states’ stay-at-home orders, the trucking protest in Houston struck a different tone with industry watchers.
“All I knew was this was a big deal,” Stephen Oatley, a broker who runs the blog Freight Broker Live, said in a live YouTube broadcast Monday, noting his own coverage of the protest garnered an outsized amount of readers compared to normal.
“A lot of the other shutdowns we’ve heard about in the past that have tried to be successful and never were, those were usually just a few trucks. This looked like more than 5 or 6 trucks.”
He was likely referencing previous attempts by truckers to highlight their plight through various traffic stoppages and “slow rolls.” On several occasions in recent years, truckers have planned traffic snarls on Washington D.C.’s beltway, though few have caused major traffic delays.
“I think it was probably negative attention for the people who ended up getting citations,” Oatley told viewers, “but if i had a truck in Houston I probably would have done the same thing. I wouldn’t be doing it because I think brokers are evil … but it got attention.”