The truckers who help Americans get through the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders by keeping store shelves stocked are on the front lines again, this time rolling into massive protests, rioting and a defund-the-police movement that they say threatens drivers’ safety.
The owner of a large trucking company in Illinois will have to halt his drivers going into Minneapolis and other big cities if police departments are defunded, saying his drivers’ safety has to be the top priority.
“It’s getting harder and harder to do business,” said Mike Kucharski, co-owner of JKC Trucking. “If they defund the police in Minneapolis, JKC trucks won’t go there.”
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Labor statistics out in December of last year revealed transportation incidents were the leading cause of workplace fatalities and truck drivers rank as one of the top 10 deadliest jobs.
Accidents contribute to deaths and injuries, but so does hijacking and crime, said Mr. Kucharski. He noted many drivers make their deliveries early in the early morning when it is still dark.
“A lot of drivers are worried about going to places that were defunded,” he said.
Drivers also have been trying to avoid those areas, as anti-racism protests turned violent across the country and rioting persisted in cities such as Seattle and Portland.
In Portland, where sometimes violent protests have lasted for more than two months, Police Bureau spokesman Officer Derek Carmon said he wasn’t aware of any truck drivers caught in the mayhem or requesting help.
“I am unaware of truckers reaching out for assistance for anything related to safety. We welcome them to do so in order for us to address their specific concerns,” he said.
A spokesperson from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said the group has been monitoring the protest situation across the country.
“We know that there were concerns about protest areas, but we know of no recent disruptions to the supply chain,” said Norita Taylor, the Association’s director of public relations.
Truckers have a reputation for being tough and fiercely independent. They also share camaraderie with police.
Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said law enforcement regularly relies on truckers to find runaways and missing persons, to look out for human trafficking, and to provide tips for high-profile fugitives.
“Truckers are vital employees and trucking companies are essential service providers. The reliable and safe transportation of goods and products is crucial not only to the economic vitality of a community but also to its safety,” Mr. Johnson said. “After all, it was a trucker who first reported the location of the D.C. Snipers at a Maryland highway rest area, a report which led to their capture.”
He said trucking is already a dangerous profession.
“Removing the protection of our police from cities and communities will understandably make it more difficult or even impossible for truckers and other transport and delivery workers to perform their jobs,” Mr. Johnson said.
JKC Trucking driver Brenda Echols, who lives in Texas, said truck drivers are accustomed to delivering to dangerous neighborhoods — and then the anti-police movement erupted.
“I’m always concerned about [safety] even without defunding police,” she said, adding that she supports the Black Lives Matter message. “Being a female in a truck alone having an early morning delivery in an area where there are homeless people, there could always be that issue.”
In addition, Ms. Echols noted, truck drivers often cross state lines, limiting their ability to legally carrying a firearm. She said new laws are needed that would allow more drivers to arm themselves.
Ellen Voie, president of the industry advocacy group Women in Trucking Inc., said most of the focus during the COVID-19 crisis and racial upheaval has been for drivers to tell their employers if they feel unsafe.
“I’ve talked to some CEOs and they are cautioning their drivers if you feel unsafe to let us know and we will route you around it,” she said of the unrest in several cities, most recently Chicago and Portland, Oregon. “The carriers are trying to make sure the drivers feel safe.”
Ms. Voie also said drivers have been very diligent, sharing information about how to reroute around massive gatherings.
“It’s a very close-knit community where they really do look out for one another,” she told The Washington Times.
Safety for female drivers has always been a concern, even before COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests, but given today’s times, more focus is being placed on keeping drivers out of harm’s way — including various safety protocols and amenities being implemented at truck stops.
“Nobody wants our drivers to be in a situation,” Ms. Voie said. “It’s just how a company’s culture is in regard to giving the driver control over their own safety.”