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Union workers rail against ratification

Welcome to the WHAT THE TRUCK?!? newsletter. In this issue, rail workers still want to strike; Nikola’s Trevor Milton intervention; pre-trips go VR; best states for drone delivery; and more.

Averted … for now

Reddit

Health of our rails — When locomotive engineer Aaron Hiles told his wife that he “felt different,” he set aside time to visit a doctor. That’s when the call came from BNSF to get back to work. Under a new attendance policy introduced by the rail, if Hiles didn’t come in he’d face a 15 point-based deduction against the attendance policy. Too many points, and you’re terminated. Hiles returned to the job and died of a heart attack a few weeks later.

“This policy is pretty cruel. Everybody is worried about points.” — Joel Dixon, a BNSF conductor, to The Washington Post

At the heart of the matter — If you listen to rail workers and their unions, the biggest concerns they have are centered around quality of life. At the top of these issues are labor shortages and time off. The problem here? The deal that averted the railroad strike doesn’t really address these problems and only adds one additional paid day off. Since the start of the pandemic, the rails are down 12,500 workers and it’s weighing on those who remain. Now, unless 12 unions and 115,000 workers agree to ratify their contracts, a strike is still on the menu. 

Facebook

Shippers aren’t happy either — Beyond the jubilation that a rail strike was averted exist layers of underlying problems that shippers want to see reformed. “I don’t want everybody to think now that we’ve solved this labor issue, we’re done,” Rob Benedict, vice president of petrochemicals and midstream for the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, told FreightWaves. “The issues that we’re feeling based on PSR [precision scheduled railroading, an operating method used by the Class I railroads to streamline operations] are going to remain even with a new deal there.”

Coming to a head — With both rail workers and customers unhappy, one solution seems obvious: Hire more staff. “They need more staff to be able to do their jobs. And if they have more staff to do their jobs, the staff they have will have a better work-life balance. There’ll be more flexibility if folks get sick and have to step away for a week or so,” Justin Louchheim, senior director of government affairs for The Fertilizer Institute, told FreightWaves. With billions in profit, that seemingly shouldn’t be an issue, but the rails claim that they need to reinvest that money into infrastructure. 

Something has got to give. What do you think? Will the rail workers still strike? Email me your thoughts. 

Trevor goes to court

Twitter

“Out-Elon Elon” If you’ve been following the Trevor Milton/Nikola saga, you’ve been there for segments like “Trevor and the trolls” and Milton’s many boastful podcast interviews. Milton spent the first couple of quarters in 2020 trying to “out-Elon Elon” by borrowing from his muse’s Twitter playbook. Now, all of that social media activity has found its way inside a courthouse in NYC as Nikola’s founder faces fraud allegations. So why did it take a short seller report in September 2020 for Nikola to do anything about its founder’s behavior? According to CEO Mark Russell, Nikola changed its social media passwords and even tried “an intervention.” Of course, they have no notes on when this actually happened. Milton is currently free on $100 million bail. Trevor Milton was a WTT Turkey of the Year in 2020.

Pre-trip inspections go VR

iMVR

Enter the matrix — As lame as I think the metaverse is for home use, I think it is clear that VR can be transformative in training. Enter Iris by iMVR, which allows drivers to learn pre and post trip inspections in a virtual environment. I’m a nerd, though, so I asked some real truckers if this was a good idea. Here’s what Back The Truck Up’s veteran driver/content creators Rooster and SuperTrucker had to say:

SuperTrucker — “It’s an overpriced power point presentation. Plus, there’s a certain percentage of the population out there that becomes violently ill wearing VR headset. If you’re training people to get their CDLs, you already have all the equipment they’re going to be pre-tripping in your yard already.”

Rooster — “Trash. Go outside and touch grass.”

Supplemental — How useful these may be is up for debate, and they certainly aren’t a replacement for touching grass but could be a boon to supplemental training. Although driving schools would have equipment, they can only replicate conditions based on real-world factors. In a sim environment you can change equipment, time of day, weather and loads. These could be especially beneficial to high school programs looking to provide training in the field. Or for people who just don’t like grass.

Walmart wants access to your garage

Instagram

Let me in — Lore tells us to never invite a vampire into our homes, but what about big-box retail delivery drivers? Apparently, a lot of people are comfortable with the option as Walmart is expanding its InHome delivery service by joining forces with myQ. MyQ is a smart garage tech provider that claims 1 in 5 U.S. households already have their technology. Makes sense, with 210 million packages stolen from Americans in 2021 and 43% claiming to be a victim, consumers are fed up. Must be why Walmart is expanding InHome delivery from 6 million households to 30 million by the end of the year. Personally, I’ll still risk it on the porch.

Oklahoma at top, Nebraska at bottom on list of best states for drone delivery

Reddit

Look up — Is your state ready for drone commerce? That’s what the third annual report by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, is asking. With the drone delivery market on pace to top $13.5 billion worldwide by 2026, is your state already behind? If you’re in Oklahoma, it turns out that you’re leading the country in drone commerce development. Why Oklahoma? According to FreightWaves, the Choctaw Nation, a Native American reservation, signed on as a participant in the Federal Aviation Administration’s Integration Pilot Program (IPP), an initiative that aimed to speed adoption of drones into U.S. airspace. This provides the state with over 44,000 acres of land to test over.

At the bottom: NE, RI, MS — Meanwhile, a trio of states round out the bottom of the list because they don’t have any regulations around airspace leasing and state leaders have shown little interest in creating a drone program office or task force. Head researcher Brent Skorup at the Mercatus Center says, “​​The issues are still there — you have this difficult problem, or ambiguity, that landowners own the airspace above their land. And even in traditional aviation when aircraft are flying at low altitudes, those glide paths have to yield to property rights at low altitudes.”

WTT Friday

Drive to be champions — Friday on WTT we’re learning from a pro what it takes to perform in the truck driving championship. Walmart driver Eric Ramsdell tells us all about how he placed first flatbedding at the 85th National Truck Driving Championship For Safe Driving.

Plus, wheel safety with IMI Products, BestPass on toll management, Ryder System talks crossborder, and the latest headlines and news of the weird. 

Catch new shows live at noon ET Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on FreightWavesTV, FreightWaves YouTube, LinkedIn and Facebook or on demand by looking up WHAT THE TRUCK?!? on your favorite podcast player.

Now on demand

Cab makeovers, ride-alongs and driver pay

Rail safety week ’22 with Operation Lifesaver

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