Arkansas Truckers Cite Fuel Prices, Park for a Day

April 3, 2008

Arkansas truckers parked their rigs on April 1 to have their say in a national protest over high fuel prices that independent operators say is putting them out of business.

Dale Burri of Greenbrier, a driver for J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., was at the Petro Stop just east of Little Rock on Interstate 40 to support independent operators, whose rigs were parked by the dozen at truck stops off the interchange.

“We don’t want only the government to know, but the citizens we provide service to,” Burri said. “If we go down, so will the economy of this country.”

Burri said the independent drivers handle loads that the big freight haulers like Hunt don’t have capacity to move. With those small companies and one-man operations unable to keep driving, Burri said the effect would ripple through the economy.

Larry White of Farmington, Mo., was among several truckers gathered in a chilly wind and under a leaden sky near the truck stop. He pointed over his shoulder with his thumb at the motel where he parked his rig for the day. He said fuel alone consumes 50 to 60 percent of his gross – filling a 300-gallon tank easily costs more than $1,000. And he said insurance, taxes, maintenance, fees and other expenses are leaving him with no profit.

“The oil companies want more tax breaks,” White said. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

In Washington on April 1, executives from the five biggest U.S. oil companies said they understood how high fuel prices are hurting consumers. But they said their profits, which came to $123 billion in 2007, are appropriate.

James Dumont, also on the sidewalk outside the Petro Stop, wore a sandwich sign that said “Park and Support.” Dumont runs a company in Conway with six trucks, all of which were parked. He said he is getting close to shutting down his business.

“We’ll be hanging on a couple of more months, but I’m looking at laying off 10 experienced employees,” Dumont said. “We’re better off letting them (the trucks) sit than to run them.”

Burri, White and Dumont said there’s a misconception among the public that truckers are making extra money from fuel surcharges and other markups.

“Somebody’s getting more, but it’s not the truckers,” Dumont said.

He said companies that need freight hauled will agree to a fuel surcharge, but they want a corresponding amount deducted from their regular rate.

John Johnson, 61, of Newport, who has three idle rigs, said truckers aren’t getting any tax breaks, despite paying state road taxes, wheel taxes, fuel taxes and licensing fees.

“The oil companies get tax breaks, the railroads get subsidized. But we just get taxed. There’s no end to it. I’m done,” Johnson said.

Johnson argued that the government steps in to help farmers, finance companies with too many bad loans and has bailed out other industries, so it should help independent truckers.

“We’re bankrupt. Whether we know it or not, we’re bankrupt,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he has driven since 1962 and opened his own company in 2002.
“I haven’t had a profit since ’04,” he said. In the last year, he said he’s watched his business wither.

“I parked them one at a time. One last spring, one last fall and just now,” he said. “Pretty soon, there’s no hanging on.”

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