Angry truck drivers slam Trump for saying protest was a 'sign of love'

  • Truck drivers are pushing back on Trump for saying that their ongoing protest in Washington, D.C., was a “sign of love.” 
  • In fact, the protests are aimed at increasing transparency into the brokerage industry, where truck drivers are paired with retailers and manufacturers to move loads.
  • Trump has promised to change this system where brokers can seemingly get away with fleecing truck drivers.
  • But drivers told Business Insider that they doubt the president will stick to his word.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A group of protesting truck drivers, blaring their horns, interrupted a White House press conference on May 15. President Donald Trump was forced to stop talking about potential vaccines for the coronavirus to recognize the group.  But Trump said the truck drivers weren’t protesting — they were parked outside the White House as a “sign of love” for him.  

In fact, it’s a protest on what truck drivers say is a lack of transparency in how their rates are calculated. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, their pay has sank to unusually low rates.  Some 100 to 200 truck drivers have parked in Washington, DC, since May 1, according to Todd Spencer, who is the president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

For weeks, these drivers have sacrificed their pay to protest.  Protesting truck drivers don’t believe that everyone in the trucking industry has experienced the same collapse. They say brokers, who connect drivers to retailers and manufacturers, haven’t seen their pay change.

Many of America’s largest brokers have laid off employees since the pandemic struck. How much money they take from drivers is unclear. According to Spencer, a federal regulation that requires brokers to reveal the breakdown of rates that they charge truck drivers is often circumvented.

The Washington, DC, protests are aimed at pushing Trump and Congress to demand further transparency from brokers.  Trump has said these brokers are “price-gouging” truck drivers. Still, no action has been made on Trump’s side to advance transparency into trucking rates.

So the protests in DC continue — and truck drivers say they’re still struggling as the federal government fails to provide further stimulus money, too.  So when truck driver Desiree Wood read on Twitter that Friday that Trump had reduced her colleagues’ protest to a Trump rally, she “just couldn’t believe it.” “When he got elected the first time, a lot of truck drivers supported him with an awareness that he didn’t know a lot about trucking,” Wood, who is the president of the advocacy group Real Women in Trucking, told Business Insider.

A Verdant Labs analysis of Federal Elections Commission data found that nearly three-quarters of truck drivers are Republican — one of the most conservative jobs in America, along with surgeons and farmers. Trump proved especially popular among drivers. Truck drivers supported Trump in droves, according to an Overdrive magazine survey of its readers before the 2016 election.

About 75% said they planned to vote for Trump, up from 66% who supported Sen. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012.

Trump Truck US President Donald Trump sits in the cab of a truck as he welcomes members of American Trucking Associations to the White House.Alex Wong/Getty Images

But, the love affair has soured. The Trump administration has delivered a few blows to America’s 1.9 million truck drivers. Trump’s new taxation laws have forced many truck drivers to pay thousands more in taxes than usual, thanks to a change in per-diem laws.

Dennis Bridges, an accountant who specializes in doing taxes for truckers, told Mother Jones in 2019 that 75% of his clients saw an unusually large tax payment that year, and about 20% had to fork over more than £5,000. Last year, manufacturing levels collapsed to its lowest point in a decade, which then spurred an unusually high number of bankruptcies in the trucking industry and a collapse in pay rates. Several blamed Trump’s trade war with China for “killing” their livelihood.

Wood said the incident on Friday was yet another snub to truck drivers. “Some of them have an awareness now that Trump is sort of like that guy who tells you you’re the only one just to get through tonight,” Wood said. “And then tomorrow, he doesn’t answer your call anymore.” Other trucking activists agree. “You’re a political toy! Placated and being used,” trucking activist Charles Claburn wrote on Facebook, as reported by Transportation Nation Network. “You leave that street (and) it’s over.

We need more trucks. They see us, now they need to hear us! There needs to be a clear ultimatum sent by this industry they have 6 weeks to deliver the promises, if not in writing, then it’s time to do it right.”

Truck driver Steven Popec, who lives in a suburb of Chicago, owns and operates his own truck. The loads he used to drive with his wife, also a driver, now pay a third of what they did last year. To drive a load 700 miles, Popec earns a gross profit of £407 before he has to pay for his insurance, maintenance, tractor and trailer loans, and so on.

He applied for a loan through the Small Business Association but, like many truck drivers who run their own businesses, he hasn’t received a penny.  “We are going deeper in debt — no relief, no SBA answer, nothing,” Popec told Business Insider. “To say truckers love the president, for what reason? What has he really done for truckers or any average American worker?

Please, prove me wrong Mr. President.”

truck driver Truck driver Osmany Almeida from Orlando, Fla., joins other truck drivers and small truck owners during a rally near the White House Friday, May 1, 2020, in Washington, to gather support on the plight of the trucks drivers and small truck owners.AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

April rates for spot-market loads — trucking jobs tendered in real time rather than through a prearranged contract — were 54% lower than in April 2019, according to data from the load-board company DAT. Rates in April fell to five-year lows for refrigerated and flatbed loads.

Cass Information Systems said April freight volumes hit levels not seen since 2009, obliterating take-home pay for drivers. Despite the collapse in pay, truck drivers remain more vital than ever during the pandemic. If all truck drivers in America stopped working today, grocery stores would run out of food just two to three days later.

Hospitals would be bereft of essential medical supplies, too.  That’s caused Popec to feel that drivers like himself as “forgotten souls.” He’s not sure Trump, or anyone running for office, would change that. “We no longer have candidates who care about the working class,” Popec told Business Insider, “only folks capable of raising money to support their own individual interest.”

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