The Trucking Industry’s Battle for The Trucking Industry’s Battle for Basic Human Needs During the Pandemic
Being a driver in the time of COVID-19 is hard. Being a driver in the time of COVID-19 without proper food, rest stops, and restrooms is even harder. Being a driver in the time of COVID-19 is hard. Being a driver in the time of COVID-19 without proper food, rest stops, and restrooms is even harder.
It might be said that nothing can show us what’s important more than living through hard times. 2020 has been a strange year. This is the year the world shut down; the year people stayed home, businesses closed their doors, and companies barred access to their buildings.
Through all this, drivers held steady and weathered the storm. They kept food and essential items in stores and transported medical supplies crucial to saving lives; however, the very people who were helping to keep the country running, ensure the shelves were stocked, and keep hospitals open, struggled to meet their basic human needs – to find restaurants, food, places to rest, restrooms to use, and showering facilities.
Even rest stops, already few and far between long before the word ‘coronavirus’ entered the media, locked their doors. According to the Saskatchewan Trucking Association (STA), rest stops are crucial to following the National Safety Code, which requires truckers to pull over to perform securement checks and inspections. Just as important, rest stops are crucial to the industry because of their facilities.
In an article in the Toronto Sun, Murry Tederoff of Black Sheep Trucking (SK), said that he’d never seen anything like the lack of facilities in his 30 years behind the wheel.
“At the facilities we’re loading at, we’re not allowed into the offices,” he said. “They haven’t even set up port-a-potties or anything.”
He adds: “They’re telling us hygiene is important – how are you supposed to stay clean when you can’t even use the washroom?”
Similarly, The Globe and Mail wrote about an Ontario dispatcher, who told a driver not to pick up a load after the client denied the trucker access to their restrooms.
“He handed him a roll of toilet paper and told him to crap out in the woods,” said the dispatcher, who condemned the treatment.
Though the company later apologized, they were not alone in their actions. This incident was repeated all too often throughout both Canada and the U.S.
Food was another issue altogether. Though many trucks are equipped with a small fridge and microwave, it was not sufficient to keep many truckers from going without food on the road. As the pandemic raged on, many restaurants only operated through drive-thru windows – but big rigs are unable to use the drive-thru windows due to their size.
Even getting a cup of coffee became difficult. CBC News quoted Al Adolphe of Steinbach, MB, who was refused service when he walked up to a drive-thru window.
“They refused to give me a coffee. And I was supposed to phone it in. I said, ‘Phone it in? I’m right here.’”
The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) and the American Trucking Association (ATA) swiftly responded to these issues, while they worked toward a solution.
“Not only do the rest areas need to remain open, we need to ensure that if this crisis is extended, food needs to be available for drivers at these areas along with sanitary and safe restroom facilities,” said CTA president Stephen Laskowski. “Drivers all over the country are ready to respond to this crisis, keep the supply chain moving and ensure store shelves are stocked; but in order to do that, they need access to basic sanitation and be able to continue to manage fatigue as they respond to this emergency.”
“These hard-working men and women deserve and need a place to safely park their vehicles to rest as well as get food,” he added. “We need to help our nation’s drivers more than ever – truck drivers will play a key role in fighting COVID-19. Shutting down the very few safe places they can rest, shower, fuel up and eat is not something anyone wants and will eventually disrupt the delivery of essential goods Canadians and Americans desperately need right now.”
It was not long before the struggles hit the mainstream media, and Canadians responded from coast to coast in the best way – by coming together.
In Port aux Basques, NL, Salvation Army volunteers started making dozens of meals per day to feed drivers, who came through the island, according to CBC News. Volunteers transported meals from the church where they are prepared to the visitor centre parking lot on the outskirts of town. In BC, food trucks were strategically placed to serve commercial drivers, with 25 portable toilets set up at commercial pullouts and inspection stations in the province.
Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba also saw many efforts to feed Canada’s highway heroes, starting around #ThankaTrucker week. In Calgary, 35 volunteers cooked enough food to make 100 deliveries a day from the local Sikh temple to truck stops, enough curry and naan bread to last truckers a couple of days on the road in each bag, as reported by CBC News reporter Carolyn Dunn.
“They’re bringing all the medical supplies to our hospital, our homes, all the groceries,” said volunteer Amanpreet Gill, “so it’s our turn to pay them back.”
As well, Diamond International Trucks hosted multiple events across western Canada, where they gave out free meals to drivers, partnering with local food companies and stretching their budget as much as possible. According to CTV News, their goal was to feed 3,000 truck drivers in Edmonton, Chilliwack, and Saskatoon.
“We’re all in this together. Everybody’s having a hard time. Everybody’s struggling, so finding little things to make everybody’s life a little bit easier really goes a long way,” said Angie Wight of Diamond International Trucks.
Some efforts included entire communities working together to keep truckers fed, such as Redcliff, AB. CBC News reported that when Cord Gibson of North Thompson Trucking LTD stopped at Trukkers Restaurant to ask for a meal, the restaurant he stopped at told him ‘no charge.’
He was then told that many community members had donated money to keep drivers fed while on the road. The effort started as a donation of $100 that exploded when posted on the Trukkers Restaurant Facebook page, prompting more and more donations to flood in.
“It was a little bit overwhelming. I kind of shed a few tears,” said Gibson, who had only eaten cold sandwiches for two weeks straight when he made the stop.
One Saskatchewan woman created a Facebook page called Feed Our Truckers – Weyburn, Saskatchewan. The suggested donation was $5 per meal, to offset costs, and meals were homemade.
“My parents are both truckers and have been most of my life and I really appreciate what truckers do on a daily basis,” said Melissa Carson, founder of the initiative, in an interview with Discover Weyburn. “I appreciate them even more now with everything they’re going through with COVID-19.”
Also in Saskatchewan, a Holiday Inn offered all commercial drivers, passing by their location, a hot shower and breakfast or supper free of charge. Their sister locations, which include the Western Star and Hampton Inn Regina, also joined the initiative.
Manitoba also saw hotels offering special rates for truckers, with Morris Stampede Inn (Morris, MB) offering a free hour ‘shower and stretch’ from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
“Through a combination of local grassroots efforts and corporate buy-in from some of Canada’s largest restaurant operators, many restaurant chains and rest stop operators, both local and national, have agreed to re-offer drivers food and access restroom facilities,” said Stephen Laskowski, CTA President. “During a time with so much uncertainty, the efforts by these operators across this country to support the industry is immensely appreciated.”
It sometimes takes an emergency to bring out the issues hiding below the surface, but it also sometimes takes an emergency to bring out the best in people. As the pandemic continues, and even when it ends, it is imperative Canadians don’t forget the importance of their essential workers.