Saturday, December 13, 2008


With that thought, I leave you readers for another week, while I go play Eskimo for awhile.

That's the final line of my last blog entry, from a week ago. Little did I know that my pronouncement would prove to be prophetic. I did, indeed, play "Eskimo" last week and will endure it all winter long, or so it seems. Misery has raised its ugly head, stared right into my eyes, grinned slyly, and said: "Hi there! Remember me?? I'm baaaaaaack!!" I was wisecracking last time about the government turning off the heat, but my trucking company has beat them to the punch. They turned off our heat last week.

The latest edict of my employer came in the form of a fleet message that each dispatcher sent out to all the trucks under their control, but the message was merely being relayed by them from the Powers That Be in those upper executive offices. The message dictated two things: First, that idle percentages must be kept at 35% or below, and that drivers in violation would be brought to the yard for "disciplinary action," if those parameters aren't met. Secondly, we are no longer allowed to use our tractors for personal transportation at all. Not even to run between the truckstop where I've been dropping my trailer for the past several years and my house, and then back to the truckstop when I leave out. My company has now entered "Maximum Fuel Conservation Mode." And they've done it at a time when fuel prices have fallen as close to rock-bottom as they're likely to get. Never heard a word about this when the prices were up to the ceiling last winter and spring. They wait till the prices are way down and cold weather has set in, before they spring this on us. How much sense does that make?? Not a lot, on the surface.

My idle percentage has been hovering somewhere in the 50-65% range, give or take. This is because it is winter. It is cold. And idling my engine is the only means I have of heating my truck. Some other outfits give their drivers APU's (Auxilary Power Units) or little bunk heaters that use a tiny amount of diesel fuel to heat the cab and bunk, without running the big engine, but not my company. They begrudge even that miniscule amount of fuel when it's not being used to actually move the truck down the road. They nixed the idea of APUs when they had it on maybe a couple dozen or so trucks. Claimed they didn't save anything with them. My company has about 700+ active trucks. How can they know something like that, with the things installed on that few trucks? Sure beats me. Danged if I know. I don't think I could tell jack, until I had them on at least half my fleet.

Translation: "We don't want to spend the money on them." That might sort of make sense, in a way. Don't spend the money on creature comforts for drivers when half of them will just quit after three or four weeks anyway. Of course, they aren't concerned about why that many drivers quit; they plan the whole operation around the turnover and indeed have problems when drivers hang onto their jobs and don't quit in droves every week. And they never think about the all-too-few experienced drivers who are still there after ten years, either. But then it would look like favoritism if they treated us differently, wouldn't it? So much for loyalty. We get to freeze our buns off, too.

Thirty-five percent idle means just what it says -- that the truck cannot idle more than 35% of the time during any given week. And, yes, they can tell how much we idle; it's all done via some high-tech electronic gadgetry known as "Sensor Tracks," which is incorporated into the Qualcomm satellite system, along with the GPS function, which tells them where every truck is located. With that magic, they can snoop on us full-time, 24/7/365. Well, it's their truck, after all. They own the thing, so I've never argued with that; in most ways, it's good security for any company. But you can't cheat. Big Brother at the yard is watching you!! Don't that give you a warm and fuzzy feeling? You're never really alone at all. They just don't have any security cameras in the sleepers and cab. Yet, anyway. But I'll shut up now. Don't want to give them any ideas, should some trucking company bigwig happen to read this.

Thirty-five percent idle isn't the lowest parameter in the world, but it's pretty stingy, especially in cold or extremely hot weather, when you need the heat and air conditioning the most. They equip all new trucks with both of those items, standard, but now comes the catch-22 -- we aren't allowed to use them very much, for very long. Eight hours, while you sleep?? Out of the question. You'll overshoot your percentage in less than two days. Staying warm while you're waiting to be loaded, unloaded, or dispatched on a load? Disallowed. Ditto. So, you sit in a cold cab, bundled up in your heavy jacket, just like you were working outside. Write in your logbook with your fingers so stiff from the cold that you can barely hold your pen, or press the keys on your calculator. You watch the vapor clouds when you exhale fog up your window glass. And when you do turn in, it's hard to sleep, because you're shivering and your teeth are chattering. If you have sleep apnea, as I do, you sleep in a nasal mask and it's like breathing in icicles after a short time. Not to mention the fact that the current draw from that machine is playing hell with your batteries. And all this is at just 33 degrees last week. I shudder to think what it will be like when I'm inevitably sent to Minnesota or Iowa, where the temps routinely fall into the single digits, or below zero at times (usually at the time I'm there, with my luck)!!

I stood it as long as I could -- about four hours -- then "SCREW THIS!!" I got up and fired that mother up. Got some heat in there and let it run until I was warm again. Then shut it back off until I again couldn't stand the cold any longer. Repeat as needed. I can't sleep anyway, when it's that cold, so I got what I could during my "warm spells." My idle will likely be down next week -- will show some improvement -- but I'm still expecting it to be over the Magic Number they've given us. One problem is that I was totally unprepared for that edict that came down from on high last week. Got to gather up some warm things while I'm at home this weekend. Long johns, see if I've still got that old sleeping bag around, sweat pants. And may put a bill off and look at those propane camping heaters they use inside their tents in cold weather. If it's safe in a tent, it'll be safe in my sleeper. Buy my own damned bunk heater, since my company won't meet us halfway.

It's either that, or eventually get hauled in for that "disciplinary action." Oh, I know what that will likely be, since they have to bring me to the yard. Maybe a written warning and a butt-chewing session with a Safety official the first time. The second time, they'll bring me up there and put me on a 3-day suspension. No roll, no miles, no paycheck, to amount to anything. And they'll also likely confiscate my keys, so that I can't start it up for the whole three days I'm there.

But it will never come to the third offense, which is likely the firing of the driver. Not with me. First time I'm suspended will be IT!! I'll be home, either on a truck, or via a Greyhound bus, and will be carrying what I can of my things with me. I will be temporarily unemployed. Being disciplined in such a manner because I will not voluntarily subject myself to frostbite conditions is just far too much crap to take. I have my limits. DON'T push that button! That's all I can say about that. It's not my fault the economy sucks and you're having financial problems; I've been having them all freakin' year long!!! It's gotten so I can make just as much at a minimum wage job as I can trucking anyway. And I mean that quite literally. It's really that bad right now. My back's already to the wall and I can't be pushed much further. Read it and heed it. There are heart attacks that aren't as serious as I am right now. I am a human being; don't fold, staple, spindle, or mutilate me.

Hopefully, it won't come to such an ugly scenario as I've just painted. Other unhappy drivers like myself might start defying the policy. They can't fire all of us, can they? Maybe I can get an exception of some sort because of my apnea and the need to run the machine I use. Maybe things will get better reasonably quickly (although I'm not holding my breath on that one). Maybe the government will bail out the trucking industry, since they're bailing everyone else out! There's always reason to hope for the best, and I certainly do. For now, I'll comply with it as well as I'm able to and see what happens next year. This sorry excuse for a year is almost over now. Good riddance! When you're down as low as you can go, the only direction left is up.

We'll see.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

So sorry to hear things are so rough for you. That's just terrible about the idling thing. Maybe the "higher ups" should spend a night or two in a truck with no heat in the middle of Minnesota. I bet that new rule would cease to exist real fast! Try to stay warm!
Nancy :-)