USA Today recently put out a great in-depth report on short-haul trucking out of LA, called “Rigged“. These are not the 18-wheelers you pass on a cross-country road trip, but rather trucks that take goods from a port in Southern California to local warehouses and rail yards: “one small step on their journey to a store near you.”
After taking on unexpected debt at the behest of their employers, these short-distance truckers became embroiled in what has been described as a modern day form of sharecropping: coerced into debt by employers who then used that debt to exploit them, and to keep the workers captive.
Following a seemingly common-sense law requiring short-haul trucks to reduce their pollution emissions, trucking companies were faced with a tough choice: modernize their fleet overnight, or go out of business.
Many of these companies decided the best move was to pass along the cost of the new trucks to their workers: asking them to turn in their old trucks as a down payment, sign a contract on the spot to take on six figures of new debt, or be fired. To make matters worse, many of the truckers were immigrants, and could not interpret the contract without the help of a translator or an attorney, neither of which were available.
Suddenly with a huge truck payment due each and every month, truckers were loathe to upset the owners who decided who got good routes, and who did not. Drivers were coerced into working twenty hour days, in violation of federal law:”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 paid toward buying them. Bosses create a culture of fear by firing drivers, suspending them without pay or reassigning them the lowest-paying routes.”Truckers were