Truck drivers protests stop traffic in Arizona, Texas, and California

  • Truck drivers in Arizona, Texas, and California are protesting rock-bottom rates.
  • The coronavirus has dragged rates in the trucking industry down to the lowest levels seen since 2009.
  • Truck drivers in California will protest again on May 1. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

In the past week, truck drivers in three different states have launched demonstrations this month as pay plummets.  The rate of moving goods via truck has fallen to the lowest levels seen since 2009, according to leading freight payment provider Cass Information Systems. There are nearly two million truck drivers in the US. Many have struggled with the shuttering of manufacturing, construction, and other industries that employ drivers to move freight.

Still, some drivers say they're unable to seek emergency help to keep their businesses going; the industry was locked out of the £2 trillion stimulus package signed into law by President Donald Trump in March.  The low rates have galvanized drivers like Thomas Ramirez to participate in demonstrations. Ramirez joined dozens of other truck drivers in a slow-roll from Los Angeles to San Bernadino on April 24 as his pay dropped by 20%. 

Even though his job moving medical supplies has become more hectic than ever, rates are crashing -- and for some, the pay isn't enough to cover the expenses of fuel or truck maintenance. "Rates are going to be so bad that truck drivers are not going to move their trucks," Ramirez told Business Insider. "We're not going to work for free." Another protest is planned in Southern California on May 1. Here's where protests have happened already:

Texas

--Houston Police (@houstonpolice)

April 20, 2020

Some 70 truck drivers halted traffic in Houston on April 20 before local police broke up the demonstration, Business Insider's Graham Rapier reported. One driver was arrested for allegedly inciting a riot, and several were issued citations. 

These drivers were protesting low rates -- specifically aiming critiques at freight brokers, who truckers say are low-balling them on rates or failing to pay them altogether. There are some 18,000 freight brokers in the US, and they play a crucial role matching truck drivers and retailers and manufacturers with loads to move.  "The brokers are the ones who are breaking the economy and breaking truck drivers; they are killing us, literally," truck driver Addiel Santos told the industry news site FreightWaves,

"Brokers are paying for trips from Houston to Midland-Odessa like £1,800 to £1,900 before," said Santos, who owns and operates his own truck. "Right now, they are paying £700. A trip from Houston to Odessa costs me £400. If I get a flat tire, need road service, I have to pay out of my pocket, and still only get £700."

While Houston police chief Art Acevedo said these drivers were violating the law with their protest, he pledged to look into brokers who are withholding pay from truck drivers. "Theft of wages is inexcusable and a criminal offense," Acevedo said on Twitter. "@MattSlinkard's team will be initiating a criminal investigation into allegations of widespread theft of wages. We won't tolerate exploitation of hard working people, or unlawfully impeding the movement of traffic."

Arizona

--Rick Davis (@rdavisfox10)

April 24, 2020

On April 24, truck drivers circled the Arizona state capital in Phoenix.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety told Business Insider that 18 trucks participated in the rally.  Fox-10 Phoenix reported that the protest concerned long hours stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. In March, the federal government suspended hours-of-work regulations nationwide for the first time to ensure the movement of necessary goods.

California

[embedded content] On the same day as the Arizona protests, a much larger demonstration of truck drivers drove from Los Angeles to San Bernadino to protest low rates.

As in the Houston protest, these truck drivers were protesting low rates from brokers. Ramirez said a run from Los Angeles over the border to Arizona would typically pay a truck driver £1,800 to £2,300. Now, that rate has tumbled to £350.

This collapse, partnered with the decline in rates that occurred over 2019, causing an unusually high number of truck driver bankruptcies, has encouraged some drivers to stop running altogether.  "We're out here risking our lives, delivering goods, and trying to help humanity, but these guys are trying to screw us over," Ramirez said.  A public information officer with the California Highway Patrol told Business Insider there were two groups of drivers totaling 40, while Ramirez said there were around 100 participants. 

These protests stopped traffic, and drivers were ticketed. Ramirez, whose big rig led many of the other drivers, and around a dozen others ultimately received citations from CHP for driving below the minimum speed, reported the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, a local California outlet. Many of these truck drivers work in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

These drivers are a key connection from nearly all of the goods that the US receives from East Asia. Much of the electronics, clothing, and furniture that China exports to the US are carried through truck drivers at those ports before they reach Americans' homes. An 8-day strike of clerical workers in 2012 at these two ports cost the US an estimated £1 billion per day. Do you work in the trucking industry? What do you think about recent protests?

Email [email protected].

Read more about truck driver protests: 

Thousands of truckers in a Facebook group called 'Black Smoke Matters' are planning a one-day nationwide strike this April

There's a stark reason why America's 1.8 million long-haul truck drivers can't strike

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

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