-a State of the State of Chaos Address
- a not-so-macroeconomic look at the economy from a truck driver's perspective.
Our jobs are very simple: we drive in circles and try not to hit stuff. But, they're really not that simple.
Normal chaos makes owning a running a dumpster company really fun. Things change all of the time and we work very hard to make heroic efforts to get our customers' needs taken care of without making it look like we are jumping through hoops. Our answer normally is: "sure no problem," and in the backs of our minds we are panicking. Somehow we normally get it done without letting the customer see us breaking a sweat. The challenge is very much the fun part and successfully servicing customers in a timely manner is viscerally and thoroughly satisfying.
Normal chaos is threatening to be taken over by abnormal chaos which isn't the fun part. Read on….
The current state of the state (of chaos):
It's all the rage to talk about shortages of goods and supplies and how the current administration has ordered the port of LA to operate 24/7 (finally). But, that's like ordering a car to run into a brick wall faster. The car will still not be able to get past the brick wall. The brick wall I am talking about is truck drivers. Truck drivers like to, cutely, say, "if you bought it, a truck brought it." That's cute and actually really true. So what does this have to do with disposing of construction waste? Read on….
In Maryland at least, there's a shortage of bus drivers. This shortage stems from the pandemic but is not because of the pandemic. It's because of the low pay that bus drivers traditionally receive. Think about it: go get an education in commercial driving and be given the responsibility of safeguarding peoples' children, only to find out that your chosen career pays $18 per hour with very little benefit and no work at least three months of the year. So bus drivers are demanding more money - rightfully so. What does this have to do with disposing of construction waste? Read on….
It started with tariffs; specifically the tariff on steel. Prior to the pandemic, steel prices (think dumpsters and trucks) increased dramatically (by 25% overnight) increasing the costs of everything. So inflation starts. It doesn't take a rocket-scientist to predict inflation caused by tarrifs on raw materials. Even a truck driver can tell you increasing the prices of stuff makes the price go up. Duh. Alright - that had a little to do with construction waste (finally).
The state of Maryland increased the minimum wage recently and eventually it will get to $15 per hour. The cost of labor goes up, and the cost of stuff goes up.
There's a chip shortage. Bla bla bla - that's old news. But it's not. Recently we had a truck lose a critical emissions sensor. That sensor and the government mandated software eventually disabled the truck and allowed it to only drive 3mph. It was so unsafe to drive the 5 miles to the Kenworth dealer that we ended up towing it - $250 and two hours later the truck was at the dealer just to sit for two weeks waiting on parts or a software work-around. The truck's job is to make money. With it sitting for no good reason other than we couldn't get an electronic sensor, we had a $253,000 asset sitting there doing nothing.
There's more to the chip story: Our last truck purchase sat for several weeks before being built because it had no dashboard electronics. Our current drivers worked many many hours of overtime, while we delayed hiring because we had no new truck for a new employee.
But wait, there's more. Our next truck is due at the end of this month. We recently got (as it was described by the dealer) some good news!! Our new truck should be done around the first of the year. The good news is that it will only be two months late. Is that good news (insert eye-roll here)?
With a critical shortage of truck drivers on the road comes an old problem made worse: there's a critical shortage of qualified mechanics to work on those ever-increasingly complex trucks. Footnote: when something is wrong with a truck, the first thing a mechanic does is connect his laptop to the truck. Really!!!! It's just a supid truck and should be simple, but they are not anymore - they are unnecessarily complex industrial machines requiring very well educated industrial mechanics to help keep them on the road.
Should we talk about fuel? We are experiencing a boomerang effect from oil producers slowing down during the pandemic. Remember that for a short period the price of a barrel of fuel was actually less than $0 meaning that producers were PAYING to get rid of their production. OPEC also is controlling the market so the price of oil increases. People are driving a lot more and flying a lot more. Cargo ships are sitting for weeks to get unloaded while burning fuel. The economy is going full bore and oil production has not caught up. Oh yeah, let's not forget hurricanes and cyber attacks knocking out fuel production. Fuel is up more than 64% in a year. Finally it's clear to see how that affects construction waste. However, not only do we transport the waste to recycling facilities and landfills, but the disposal sites also use a huge amount of fuel by either re-transporting the recycling, waste, or in the case of landfills by using giant fuel sucking dozers and giant fuel-sucking-crusher-rolly-machines (that is rumored to be the actual name of the big spiky machine).
Oh wait - then there's the doozy: Maryland is running out of landfill space pretty quickly. Rumor has it that one of the three landfills nearest to Baltimore will be closed in 8 years due to being completely full. Their reaction to increased demand and the coming-soon lower supply? Increased disposal costs.
With demand for truck drivers at an alltime high, wages go up. With demand for more trucks, mechanics' wages go up. With demand for more trucks, truck prices go up. With demand for bus drivers at an alltime high, wages go up. With higher prices on raw materials, like steel,chips, and fuel, prices go up.
So…. Guess what's coming… It shouldn't take a truck driver to tell you that inflation is coming and will likely be extended. This country and world is long long overdue for an inflationary cycle. We've done everything, to no avail, to create a deflating value of the US dollar so our goods and services are more attractive overseas. It's now catching up with us in ways completely unexpected by even the most seasoned experts. One can only hope that the Federal Reserve takes the necessary steps now to not let inflation get out of control (without overreacting).
*if you have found grammar or speeling mistakes in the above, remember: it was written by a truck driver and in this profession, poor spelling doesn't disqualify you from making a decent living.