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Vinson: Keep those truckers rolling

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By MIKE VINSON

C'mon and join our convoy

Ain't nothin' gonna get in our way

We gonna roll this truckin' convoy 'cross the U-S-A

Convoy.... (chorus to the song "Convoy," written and sung by C.W. McCall)

TRUE STORY

April 2015: To put it mildly, the mood was tense, and I was experiencing an emotional tug-of-war: Time was of grave essence, because I had committed to drive a friend to Bowling Green, KY. However, it also was my responsibility to safely deliver her to Bowling Green.

Traveling down Interstate 65 North at about 70 mph, we were approximately halfway between Nashville and Bowling Green. I purposely kept the Denali SUV in the middle lane, doubling my options for maneuvering in-and-out of traffic ... then ...

To my immediate left appeared a huge tractor-trailer rig; to my immediate right appeared another big rig--I was 'sandwiched' in-between! The trailer on each rig appeared to be fishtailing. My first thought was: I wonder how much sleep the drivers have had in the last 48 hours, and are they in control of their rigs? In all honesty, I felt downright trapped, because only a few feet separated reaching the desired destination alive & well, or ending up as carnage amidst a heap of twisted metal on I-65 North. My right foot pressed down on the gas pedal; the Denali's engine roared to 90 mph, and we were gone!

***

Whether you're inside your home, inside a school, inside a doctor's office, inside a restaurant, inside a Dollar Store, inside a Home Depot--whatever the environment--take a mental inventory of every single item you see. For that matter, check out the people around you. Then look outside and observe the vehicles in the parking lot.

And?

There is a 99% chance that everything you see was delivered, directly or indirectly, by a long-haul trucker driving a tractor-trailer rig: furniture, food, beverage, clothing/uniforms, toys, medical equipment/supplies, dishwashers, tires, motor vehicles, farming equipment, weaponry, tools, computers, books, building supplies ... and the list continues.

Here's what one veteran trucker had to say: "As a long-haul trucker, you have four major pickup junctions: water ports/docks, especially up-and-down the West Coast and the East Coast. On the West Coast, it's large shipments of mostly imports coming in on barges and cargo vessels via the Pacific Ocean. It's the same scenario with the East Coast and the Atlantic Ocean.

"Also, large loads of freight are transported by train to rail yards. The freight to be picked up could be USA-made or an import, just depends. Drawing on my experience, these rail yards are located in just about every state in the United States, all across Canada, and other geographical locations.

"And there are pickups at major airports. I remember one time when a Nissan plant in Canada desperately needed parts from Yorozu [a support plant for Nissan], located in Morrison, TN. Time was of such essence that Yorozu flew the needed parts to an airport in Canada. However, a trucker had to pick up the parts at the airport and deliver them to the Nissan plant.

"Still, you have 'border' pickups, such as at the border intersection of El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. Those can be downright scary, because the cartels are consistently attempting to smuggle drugs and weapons into the United States."

I recently read an article titled, appropriately enough, "Rigged," which ran in the June 18, 2017 issue of The Tennessean newspaper. The subtitle read: "Port truckers are trapped in a job that leaves them destitute." I found the following excerpts from the "Rigged" article to be particularly disconcerting:

"The USA TODAY Network pieced together accounts from more than 300 drivers, listened to hundreds of hours of sworn labor dispute testimony and reviewed contracts that have never been seen by the public.

Among the findings:

*Trucking companies force drivers to work against their will--up to 20 hours a day--by threatening to take their trucks and keep the money they [drivers] paid toward buying them. Bosses create a culture of fear by firing drivers, suspending them without pay or reassigning them the lowest-paying routes.

*Many drivers thought they were paying into their truck like a mortgage. Instead, when they lost their job, they discovered they also lost their truck, along with everything they'd paid toward it."

After reading the above USA TODAY Network allegation of truck drivers being forced "to work against their will--up to 20 hours a day," I recalled that April 2015 day on I-65 North, when I was sandwiched in by two large rigs, both driving erratically. It served as the 'trigger' that compelled me to write this column.

In fairness, I would like to note that research suggests reputable trucking companies, which treat drivers fairly, outnumber shady trucking companies, which treat drivers shabbily.

In conclusion, my foremost point here is this: Whatever lobbying/law/legislation/ it takes, we must take care of our long-haul truckers, because if the rigs cease rolling, America will shut down and, ultimately, die.

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