Monday, June 9, 2014

WalMart Trucker in Morgan crash: They'll make it all his fault.

"If you're going to strive to motivate workers through autonomy and empowerment, it's important to remember that the primary burden is to make sure employees believe what you say.

Don't tell them you want them to be empowered to increase the company's profits.  Tell them you want them to be empowered because it's the best way to remain competitive and guarantee everyone their jobs."

Carl Robinson, Vice President, Organizational Psychologists

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I am not fully aware of all the details of the traffic accident in New Jersey that killed one comedian and severely injured another. The surviving comedian, Tracy Morgan is critically ill in hospital. 

According to the latest news, the truck driver, a WalMart employee named Kevin Roper, had not slept for 24 hours prior to the accident.  Roper is free on bail and is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday. He has been charged with “death by auto” and four counts of assault by auto according to AP.

From reports I have read, WalMart has 6200 trucks and 7200 drivers that either work directly for the company or are independent contractors, I do not know which at this point.

The mass media says that WalMart trucks have been involved in 380 crashes in the last two years resulting in nine deaths and 129 injuries. Federal law allows truck drivers to work up to 14 hours a day but only 11 hours of that behind the wheel. They must have 10 hours off between shifts in order for them to sleep.

WalMart (a corporation can speak you know) said today that Roper was working or operating his rig within federal regulations.  Well, working people know all about this stuff.  Of course WalMart is going to say this.  Do we think that WalMart treats its truck drivers, contracted or not, any better than its store personnel?  The Walmart heirs are worth more than 90 million Americans, they didn’t accumulate that amount of wealth ensuring the safety of their workers and the public. They will, like they all do, hide behind regulations and blame those at the bottom of the pecking order.

I worked for a public utility for almost thirty years, a good place to work compared to the private sector where competition is more fierce.  But even here, the pressure to get the job done as quickly as possible was there.

We often responded to emergency situations where consumers were without water or a huge watermain break was occurring. If it was the end of the day there were times that we worked though the night, we worked for 24 hours.  We might have ended our regular shift, gone home, had dinner and were then called out again to work through the night. Overtime became mandatory after we all got off call in the 1985 strike.

For the longest time we had no recourse if we had worked through the night but to go home and lose sick pay or take a vacation day. Sometimes decent supervisors would give the crew that had been up all night small jobs or let us park up somewhere and take a nap. But there was always the possibility then that a member of the public might see us and report it.  They don’t like public workers napping on their dime.  Working class communities were much less likely to do this than the wealthy areas whose residents are not happy unless a blue-collar worker is bent over a shovel.

I was involved in negotiations when we won what they called Fatigue Time, management fought us tooth and nail of course.  For every hour of overtime we worked we got half of that time off.  Say we worked from midnight to 8 am, then we could take the day off to go home, sleep and recover but with half pay. Naturally, we rarely used it.  There were many times we worked tired and tired is unsafe but there were not many other options other than lose income. Fortunately, we eventually won hour for hour fatigue time.

My point here is that with all these catastrophes, mine deaths, environmental disasters and the like, the authorities will always seek to blame the individual.  Individual responsibility always trumps social pressure, the coercive and exploitative relationship at work and the social order or environment that directs our behavior to a great degree.

We had a guy have a tragic accident at work and his back was crushed.  Was it his fault?  The other guy’s fault?  I know where the fault lie as I was in negotiations many times as our bosses pushed getting more work done with less and quicker. We were under threat of losing our work to the private sector if we couldn’t compete.  We had to work more efficiently and undercut our private sector brothers and sisters.  So the boss was more responsible than the workers involved and the social organization lies at the head of it.

In the private sector the competition is worse.  Truck drivers have been savaged over the past 40 years I have been in this country.  The big trucking companies often contract out their hauling so you become an individual owner, you are your own boss, the American Dream being your own boss.  By the time you’ve sat at the docks or at a hub, paid for truck insurance, health insurance and new tires, you’re earning $10- an hour.  You have to keep that rig moving and not moving empty.

Without knowing a damn thing about it I know that the pressure to produce for these drivers is intense.  And to “produce” for them means getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible.  Long distance hauling is grueling work and I very much doubt if they are union which would offer them some recourse and protection. The Wall Street Journal commented just last week that manufacturing seems to be improving in the US, “The declining power of US unions”, the author writes, “…also encourages some manufacturers to set up in the US rather than Europe or elsewhere.” The writer goes on to remind us of Caterpillar’s decision to close its plant in London Ontario and move to a non-union plant in Muncie Indiana where wages are 50% lower.

I have raised time and time again that the disasters that arise almost weekly are not natural disasters or simply the problem of human character flaw or individual actions.  We will violate regulations that protect us in the long run if we have to pay the rent or feed the kids in the immediate term. Society is set up to ensure that long term security is out so make the best of what you have at the moment and if that means violating regulations or laws that the capitalism uses to hide behind then so be it.  Let’s remember another example, the capitalist media always talks of Mexican workers or Vietnamese workers being “willing” to work for less; actually to work for slave labor just about.  But they are not willing, they are forced and coerced by a violent system of production, its functionaries and institutions. The only time they talk about a “system” is when they talk of communism or socialism and how these “systems” have failed or are Utopian. The US is at the bottom of industrialized nations when it comes to health care, wages, benefits, vacations and the quality of life.

I feel a sense of solidarity with that truck driver and I feel sorry for the people injured due to what might be his lack of sleep. But I know where the blame lies and I won’t accept it all falling on his shoulders.  The same judges and lawyers charging him aren’t in WalMart stores protecting workers from abuse or going after the founder’s worthless offspring whose wealth is dependent on poverty and misery for others. This situation will not change until workers take things in to our own hands. We must own and control the means of producing the necessities of life.

Here’s a few steps (there’s more)  that will ensure this sort of incident and the numerous workplace disasters can become a thing of the past:*

For a 30 hour workweek with no loss in pay
Jobs for all and a $20 an hour minimum wage
Organize the unorganized
A massive public investment program for housing, transportation and education
Free accessible health care for all
End all wars and occupations, jobs for social need not profit and the military
Build an independent workers political party, no reliance on Democrats or Republicans.

* A good book about the trucking industry in the post war era is Hoffa and the Teamsters, a study of union power by Ralph and Estelle James

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