Al Hemerson was done.
On April 20, 2016, the OOIDA life member from Gilmore City, Iowa, parked his truck and gave it up, putting his trucking career on hiatus. There the truck stayed until the last week of 2016.
Why he took time off isn’t important. What he noticed when he returned, and what he may do as a result, is.
“I gotta tell you,” he said, “being off that long, there are no noticeable improvements in this industry.”
“You really notice it when you step out and step back into it.”
Al points to one of the loads he hauled shortly after returning. He picked up the freight in McAllen, Texas, which sits on the border with Mexico, leaving at 4:45 p.m. on a Saturday. His broker then called him, asking if he could have the load in Central Iowa by 6 a.m. Sunday.
That’s a drive of nearly 18 1/2 hours, more than 1,200 miles. And the broker wanted it delivered a scant 13 hours later. Never mind whether he had hours on the clock or how long he was held at the dock – but gosh, can you have it there by sunup Sunday? That would be great.
On the way, during a stop at a rest area in Missouri, a truck pulled in next to Al’s rig while he was doing a pre-trip inspection. Before you know it, he’s trying to work around a pool of the other trucker’s urine, dumped right on the pavement.
“I can’t get across it without walking through it,” he said. “So I walked clear back around the other side, pulled my truck ahead so I could check the drive tires.”
That kind of thing weighs on Al – a man who takes pride in his operation and his achievements.
“I can honestly tell you now, I’ve got 4 1/2 million miles safe driving, I’ve competed in the Iowa truck driving championships, I’ve been a member of the Trucker Buddy program,” Al said.
“I’d like to think that my wife and I run a very professional business.”
But the working conditions, the problems, the treatment of drivers, the regulations and everything else are piling up – and Al is getting dog-tired of fighting it all.
“Unless something drastically changes … you can put my picture up on the bulletin board of the ‘Who’s Who in the Trucking Industry’ that’s said, ‘hey, government, if you’ve got a better way to run it, have at it. I’ll step back and watch from the sidelines.”
“I think you’re going to see a mass exodus” of drivers leaving the industry, Al added. “As far as I’m concerned, from what I’m seeing right now, color me gone.”
For years, we’ve been talking about the so-called driver shortage. And for the most part, I’ve contended it’s imaginary. When an industry has more than 100 percent turnover, that’s not a shortage of labor; it’s a turnover problem.
If the government does not act, if it does not fix a clearly broken regulatory situation, if shippers and receivers don’t fix problems at the docks (or are made to), if brokers and carriers don’t get more realistic about what truckers can do, if we don’t see improved conditions and pay – if all of these things and more are simply not made better, we may finally see what a real driver shortage looks like.
And it will truly be ugly, not just for trucking, but for the country.
I hate to hear that we might lose people like Al Hemerson, the ones who are keeping the right kind of standards in this industry. We need them. The country needs them.
But the solutions have been right in front of us all along.
Right now, we have a historic opportunity with the current administration and the environment in Congress to tackle the government end of these problems, especially the ineffective and overly burdensome regulations.
Let’s take it. We need to hold on to people like Al.