Friday, February 27, 2015

What’s spring training got to do with port unrest?

I had a history teacher once who linked each decade in the 20th Century with a common theme, a baseball player and often a baseball team that reflected culture and politics of the era.

Babe Ruth, the Roaring ’20s and the New York Yankees, he said, represented the free-flowing capitalism and personal excess that led to both the Great Depression and the shortening of Ruth’s career. Third baseman and devout Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, he said, represented the rise of evangelical Christianity that dominated sports and politics during the 1980s.

Here’s hoping Dr. Linder can one day draw a line between labor issues in America’s pastime and the goods movement industry during the 2010s.

In late March, Major League Baseball will celebrate 20 years since labor problems last forced a work stoppage.

The player’s strike of 1994, which torpedoed a contention season by my Kansas City Royals, stretched into spring training and threatened to ruin 1995 before then U.S. District Judge Sonia Sotomayor stepped in and issued a preliminary injunction against the MLB – ending the strike.

Sotomayor, now a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, famously told attorneys in the case, “I hope none of you assumed … that my lack of knowledge of any of the intimate details of your dispute meant I was not a baseball fan. You can’t grow up in the South Bronx without knowing about baseball.”

Truck drivers, even ones who rarely go into a major port, can’t do their jobs for long without learning the difficulties faced by owner-operators at ports.

And because so many imports and exports go through U.S. ports, trucking felt the pinch of work slowdowns at West Coast ports during negotiations between longshore workers and the Pacific Maritime Association.

That’s why so many breathed a sigh of relief after it was announced Feb. 20 that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the PMA had reached an agreement on a five-year labor contract for workers at 29 ports along the West Coast.

Small port drivers at big ports like Long Beach and Los Angeles often must carry out duties of a company driver while not receiving employee pay or benefits. They scuffle for rates against companies who may not play by the same rules.
Port truckers wait in line for repairs to chassis they don’t even own, and fight for rates that don’t always account for long lines and other inefficiencies ports have been trying to solve for decades.

Drivers have been winning recent battles over misclassification as owner-operators.

Immediately following last week’s announcement that the longshore workers contract had been ironed out, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, its port division and the Justice for Port Truck Drivers affiliate organization, signaled that labor issues aren’t fully resolved at the ports just yet.

If the driver classification issues improve, ports and shippers will have cleared a second labor hurdle and calmed some prosperous waters.

Baseball saw revenues increase from $1.4 billion to $9 billion during the peaceful two decades since the 1994 work stoppage.

As the job market grows and economists point to signs of a recovering economy, here’s hope for a rising tide to lift ports, trucking and the U.S. like baseball experienced for the last generation.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Colorado DOT flummoxed by Mystery of the Serial Book Dumper

Since December, the Colorado Department of Transportation has been trying to solve a mystery: Who’s been dumping hundreds of books on a stretch of Highway 287 outside of Boulder? The latest incident occurred Monday, Feb. 23.

CDOT spokesman Jared Fiel says the agency has collected more than 300 books so far, but hasn’t been able to pick up any clues as to who’s doing the littering.

“It’s very random, except that it’s along the same stretch of Highway 287,” Fiel said in a phone interview with Land Line. “It seems deliberate. It’s not like (a vehicle would be) turning right there. They’re often in the median. We’re not finding them anywhere else.”

In the beginning, the books were mostly “romance novels” but lately it’s become “a more eclectic mix” according to Fiel.  

While most of the tomes are paperback, Fiel said it still presents a travel and safety issue for motorists and for the DOT employees who have to go out and pick up the mess by hand.

“It’s very frustrating because that’s a pretty heavily traveled road,” he said. “It’s just so stupid and so frustrating for our guys. Obviously this is snow season so they’re working late nights/early mornings and then during the day they’re out there picking this stuff up.”

Most of the books end up being thrown away because “they’re pretty trashed” he said.

Fiel said the agency doesn’t really have any ideas as to why the books have been littering that particular stretch of road.

CDOT is asking for the public’s help in catching the perpetrator or perpetrators. If you spot suspicious activity along the road, contact the main number for CDOT at 303-757-9011. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Honey, I Shrunk the Truck Driver

Don’t be surprised if someday soon a broker asks you to scrunch down in your seat so the shipper can’t see you.

Let me explain.

According to a recent transportation news blurb, “40 percent of manufacturers and retailers expect their logistics providers to have some understanding of driverless vehicles.”

The statistic was attributed to the Eye For Transport 2015 3PL Report, an annual survey of shippers and 3rd Party Logistics providers, more than 400 of them according to EFT. I downloaded a copy.

The relevant survey question was for shippers: “Do you expect your 3PL to have any expertise of, or (for 3PLs) are you looking to provide services which incorporate driverless vehicles/trucks?”

Sure enough, according to the survey bar chart, a bit more than 40 percent of respondents, roughly 160, selected the option “Some expertise/knowledge would be useful.”

How or why such knowledge would be useful and to whom isn’t explained. I suppose it might also be useful in some obscure way for a broker to have a working knowledge of calculus, a degree in cognitive dissonance, or a 2003 Buick.

But wait. At the top of the bar that reflects responses from shippers is a red sliver that represents at least 2 percent of the total. These folks answered the same driverless truck question by checking this amazing answer:

“I would expect my 3PL to be able to provide both expertise and services in this area now.”

OK, so if my arithmetic is right, there are at least eight shippers out there who expect that, should they ask for one, a driverless truck will back into their dock this afternoon.

Who will they call?

Look no further than the bar that reflects 3PL responses. The red sliver on top represents a little less than 2 percent of respondents. According to the survey these, let’s say seven, 3PLs are looking to dispatch driverless trucks today.

So who do they call?

It could be you, and with a special set of scrunch-down pickup instructions.

Should it happen, don’t take it personally. Just try to look small.