Loyalty and Business

Loyalty is an old-fashioned virtue. It probably was more in style when people depended on each other for help when things got tough and a man needed to know who was for him and who was against him.

It probably is still a big deal to a Marine or somebody who works in a small, tight group and whose life depends on teamwork. But some drivers may feel they have a lesser need of it. They don’t work in a group and their lives and livelihoods depend mostly on themselves.

So it may well be that people who work alone are loyal only to themselves.

Then again, a hand could use a few friends, even if he spends his working life on the road. You won’t find too many friends on the road, though. What you do find if you’re lucky are friendly people and people who do their job well so that you can do yours. That’s about as far as friendship gets on the road. And somehow the notion of friendship and the notion of loyalty are tied together.

You expect a certain brand of loyalty from a friend, and you want to be loyal in return. Instead of money or some commodity being exchanged, there is an exchange of faith. You don’t expect loyalty from the friendly waitress or the dispatcher you know by first name; you expect a smile from a waitress and a decent load from your dispatcher. You expect honesty, particularly when someone tells you he’ll do something.

This kind of loyalty, if you can call it that, is a major part of doing your job and of business in general. It is not good business to say one thing and do another. But the motivation in business is profit rather than the preservation of friendship.

So in a truck driver’s world, as in any worker’s world, there are plenty of human relationships that exist on a purely business plain. Fine. That’s the way the world is. Expecting anything else would be unrealistic and counterproductive. But should there be some kind of loyalty, a loyalty that goes both ways, between employer and employee? What purpose would loyalty between an employer and employee serve if it did not serve profit?

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There is no greater hypocrisy in our business than the hypocrisy of saying that safety is the No. 1 concern of the industry. The No. 1 concern of the industry is profit. Admittedly, there are times when simply staying in business is the No. 1 concern.

But to say that safety is the No. 1 concern is to say that business would stop if there were any risk at all. Risk resides in the nature of being alive. There is no way to legislate a risk-free world. In trucking the risks are extremely high for drivers both from accidents and from a lifestyle that might well cause drivers to die 15 years younger than the general population.

If safety were the No. 1 concern, trucking companies would put more resources into identifying and fixing conditions that cause drivers to die prematurely.

Trucking is an industry that waits for the government or the customer to tell it what to do.

The industry is so used to taking orders that taking a leadership position is out of the question. It is unwilling to police itself, unwilling to give up the hypocrisy of preaching safety while doing everything it can to make money in flagrant violation of the law. Of course, this is not true of everybody.

In my experience, things are a lot better than they used to be. But when it comes to some employers, there’s still sometimes a policy of treating drivers as a commodity, an expendable commodity.

In a way, truck drivers are lucky. The hypocrisy you live with every day is too transparent to miss. You may die young but you’ll always have a job.