Although Madison Cawthorn wasn’t the focus of this week’s episode, John Oliver couldn’t help but spend a few minutes chatting about the North Carolina rep. orgies fueled by other lawmakers, statements that greatly annoyed his fellow Republicans. Oliver pointed out that it was on-brand enough for Cawthorn to consider his story a “predatory and conspiratorial” kind of fucking attention. And best of all, it was a chance for Oliver to happily discuss an Instagram post of Cawthorn at Adolf Hitler’s so-called Eagles Nest mountain retreat, and Cawthorn’s caption of how the house of the “Führer” had been on his “bucket list for a while”. and that he “did not disappoint”.
But enough about Hitler and the orgies – it’s time to talk trucks. There are about 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States, but trucking companies have long claimed there’s a driver shortage that threatens to derail — OK, derail more — the supply chain. Except the real problem isn’t too few truckers, it’s too few truckers willing to put up with all the terrible bullshit truckers have to put up with.
From the pop culture heyday of trucking in the 1970s – Oliver rightly praised the insane late 1970s TV show BJ and the bear, about a long-haul trucker and his chimpanzee companion, Bear — driver pay has dropped 50% in real terms. Why? For the same reason so much about the United States is so, so bad today: the deregulation of the 1980s. not Ronald Reagan who approved it, it was Jimmy Carter. He did it in July 1980, and even a chimpanzee driving a truck with a counterintuitive name could figure Carter was doing it in a vain attempt to appeal to voters amid his unsuccessful re-election campaign.
Oliver identified three big problems with the trucking industry. First, truckers aren’t being paid for a time-consuming part of their job – waiting while their trucks are loaded and unloaded. Instead, they are paid by the mile, which Oliver says encourages dangerous driving to make up for lost time. He then pointed out that 5,000 people are killed each year in accidents involving large trucks. Are these two things really related, and if so, to what extent? Unfortunately, Oliver didn’t say anything.
The second is that truckers are labeled as independent contractors even when working for one company, meaning they receive no benefits and pay their own expenses. Oliver played a clip in which a trucker explained that she made $150,000 in a year, but because of all her costs – her gas alone was $100,000 – the amount of money she brought home was much closer to $20,000.
“I’m not a CPA, despite the face, the bezels and the insatiable excitement for numbers that strongly imply otherwise,” Oliver said. “But that seems like a pretty shitty result.”
And the third reason: lease-purchase contracts. In theory, drivers rent a truck from the company they work for – well, the company they independently contract with – until they finally own the truck. In fact, one business executive estimated that only 5-10% of drivers who made the deals ended up as owners. Some drivers involved in these predatory hire and labor contracts have found themselves owing company money at the end of a work week.
Oliver pointed out that the Departments of Labor and Transportation plan to investigate how drivers get tricked by trucking companies. But trucking companies aren’t the only ones playing a role in the misery experienced by some of the country’s most crucial workers.
“We should probably recognize that we’ve all gotten used to the idea of free next day delivery,” Oliver said. “But above all, someone somewhere always pays the price.”