A group of 26,000 truckers wants to strike against the biggest issues plaguing America's trucking industry by shutting down the nation's highways - but not everyone is on board

Truck Driver

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Truck drivers aren't all in agreement about a strike.

  • A Facebook group with more than 26,000 truckers is planning to shut down the nation's highways on April 12.
  • But not all truck drivers agree with the methods of Black Smoke Matters, the name of the organization and Facebook group.
  • Those truck drivers say the group has "criminal" intentions and that a highway shutdown could be dangerous.

Chris Polk, who has been a truck driver for two decades, doesn't like the regulations that America's 1.8 million truck drivers must work under - especially the recently implemented safety laws that many truckers say actually make their jobs more unsafe.
Because of those laws and the general decrease in pay that truck drivers have seen, a Facebook group with more than 26,000 truckers is planning to shut down the nation's highways on April 12. Some truckers might park directly on the nation's highways, while others are planning to just refuse to work that day and stay at home.

Polk and those truck drivers, whose Facebook group is called Black Smoke Matters, can agree that the electronic-logging device mandate and other laws are untenable - but he says he won't be joining those truck drivers.

"At the core of my belief is that good ideas do not require force - coercing, aggression, blocking a highway, refusing to do work that you have agreed to do," Polk told Business Insider. "That, in my view, is an act of violence."

Jonathan Jenkins, who has been a truck driver for 15 years, had a more swift indictment.

"They're a bunch of criminals, they're a bunch of rebels, and the fact of the matter is they're all going to go to jail on domestic terrorist charges," Jenkins, the owner of a refrigerated trucking fleet, told Business Insider.
truck driver

J. Pat Carter/AP


Trucker strikes have had serious effects

If the Black Smoke Matters truck strike takes off on April 12, and the nation's highways are shut down, the effects could be drastic. Trucks move some 71% of the nation's freight. And that's not just your Amazon Prime deliveries, but food, water, and medical supplies.

Within the first day of a trucker strike, basic medical supplies, like syringes and catheters, would be at risk of running out. Medication for cancer patients that use radiopharmacuticals, which only have a life span of a few hours, would expire.

Read more: The federal government just confirmed what America's 1.8 million truck drivers have been saying for years: The truck-driver shortage doesn't really exist

Gas stations and grocery stores would start to run out of supplies. The ATA wrote that reports of a trucker work stoppage would stir up consumer panic, not unlike when hurricanes or other natural disasters lead to folks emptying grocery stores.

Further up the supply chain, manufacturing delays would become rampant. Computer and auto manufacturers, for instance, build their goods as components are received throughout the day.

And, should a strike last more than a few days, grocery stores would run out of supplies.

Some truckers say the strikes are immoral

Because of those massive effects, some truck drivers say a trucking strike is immoral.

"Shutting down freight and stopping down movement for medical supplies and things like that is putting terror on the general public," truck driver Chad Teague told Business Insider. "It's morally wrong to stop the movement of freight just because we want to stomp our feet and say we want you to hear us."

Between 1973 and 1974, independent truck drivers organized over CB radio to shut down trucking across the US for multiple days in protest of skyrocketing oil prices.

truckers 1974

Fred Waters/AP

Truckers at a stop in Foristell, Missouri in 1974.

Around 100,000 truckers were laid off, and the National Guard was called in Ohio to deploy tear gas and forcibly remove trucks from blocking the highways. There were fatalities, too."There was a time in my career - I've been 20 years in the business - I probably would have agreed with these guys," Polk said. "But I've grown to understand that my value is tied to what I can do for other people, and that's where I feel that this group is missing the mark, because they're only thinking about themselves. I don't think they care about all the people who are affected."

But, the 1970s truckers won their demands after the shutdown, and the strike gave rise to the influential Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association.

But, it might also fail

Trucking labor experts have been doubtful about the outcome of Black Smoke Matters.

"I would be shocked if anything was successful," Michael Belzer, an associate professor of economics at Wayne State University who has studied trucking for decades, told Business Insider about the Black Smoke Matters protest. "I'm afraid organizing on Facebook is a little unrealistic."

Regional strikes leading up to Black Smoke Matters suggests that outcome.

Truck drivers had planned for months to do a "slow roll" around I-465 in Indianapolis. Indiana State Police told FOX 59 that they expected 400 to 500 trucks to loop twice around I-465 on Feb. 21, moving at around 45 miles per hour to raise awareness for trucker rights.

Ultimately, 78 truckers showed up.
Read more: 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

One obstacle for internet-organized strikes is the size of the trucking community. There are nearly 2 million truck drivers in the US, and they are spread across the country, spending most of their days alone.

Labor unions used to merge disparate interests, not just for truck drivers, but employees nationwide. Labor-union membership across private-sector industries nationwide has fallen from one in three during the post-War World II era to one in 10 today, according to Jake Rosenfeld of Washington University in St. Louis.

Read more: Strikes don't usually succeed without a union - but a group of 15,000 truckers are hoping to prove the opposite

A few decades ago, most truckers were unionized. In 1974, Belzer said there were 2,019,300 truckers in Teamsters. Now, there are 75,000. Owner-operators, who total 350,000 nationwide and average 26 years in the trucking industry, are outright banned from forming labor unions.



Polk, Teague, and Jenkins all said they were not interested in unionizing.

The decline of Teamsters follows a decline in trucking pay and working conditions. A Business Insider analysis showed that median wages for truck drivers have decreased 21% on average since 1980. In some areas, they've declined as much as 50%. In 1977, the mean earnings of a unionized truck driver stood at $96,552 in 2018 dollars. The median earning of a truck driver now stands at $42,480.

That all points to yet another reason the trucker strike may struggle: Truckers aren't paid enough to take a day off of work.

"The average truck driver has a family to support," Teague said. "They have a wife at home, they have kids at home. The last thing that they're concerned with is blocking a highway. They simply just cannot afford financial to shut down the truck and not support their family."