MEDFORD, Ore. – Independent U.S. truckers are planning to stop hauling freight Tuesday in protest of record-high diesel prices that drivers say they can no longer afford.
Independent truckers, who constitute 90 percent of the nation's trucking fleet, are being hit especially hard by soaring diesel prices and compensation lags far behind rising costs, according to the American Trucking Association.
"Diesel used to be 30 to 40 cents cheaper than regular gasoline; now it's 30 to 40 cents more," said independent truck driver Gordon Gravely, of Helena, Mont., who stopped at the Phoenix Petro Truck Stop on his way to Roseburg, Ore.
Many truckers are spreading word of a strike through Internet blogs and over their CB radios, encouraging everyone to put their trucks in park in order to send the message to U.S. oil companies and the federal government.
"Make a stand, we're going to unite. It’s something we've needed to do," said truck driver Carla Skipworth.
Diesel this week was at an average of more than $4 a gallon in Oregon and Washington and nearly $4.12 in California, according to the American Trucking Association. If a trucker is filling up a 300-gallon semi, that bill could top $1,200.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says it has not called for strikes and gave no estimate of how many of its members might participate. "We do not tell our members what to do. They inform us of what they are doing and we support their decisions either way," said Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the group.
"It worries the hell out of me," said 10-year truck driver Stan Hall, of Salt Lake City. "It just seems like a nightmare. In my wildest dreams, I wouldn't have guessed it would get this bad."
Hall said his company restricts drivers to certain fuel stations, where it has negotiated discount diesel rates.
"They tell us not to buy fuel in California," Hall said. "We are supposed to buy only as much as we need to get out of there."
Web sites such as TruckDriversUnited.com, are asking truck drivers to band together in a nationwide strike this first week of April, and some drivers already are planning to stop their trucks for a few hours early Tuesday.
"We keep getting e-mail every day from more and more who say they will shut down," Dan Little, owner of Little & Little Trucking of Carrollton, Mo. told the Indianapolis Star, "It's not only the truckers that are getting involved in this. We're getting e-mails from others, too. They tell me they plan to stay home on April 1."
Mike Card, president of Combined Transport in Medford, has 388 tractor-trailers in the company. He says the company is spending $2 million a month on fuel.
To help offset the costs Combined Transport has discount agreements with some fuel stops and installs tires, aerodynamic body parts and anti-idling devices that make the trucks more fuel-efficient. The company also reduced the maximum speed for its trucks to save on fuel.
More than 100 truckers and others rallied on the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg Monday, asking lawmakers to cut state taxes on their fuel.
Some truckers drove around the Capitol, blasting their horns in protest, but the state argues it needs the tax revenue to repair roads and bridges.
"There is a disproportionate burden placed on small business owners who are truck drivers because they depend upon diesel to run their businesses," said Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
George Vincent, 44, a driver from Monroe, Mich., said he doesn't support the trucker strike because he fears it will "throw the economy into a spiral."
Vincent said he copes by spending more time on the road. "I don't know how some people are making it. I have to work more to earn less."
Prices for diesel fuel have been lifted in the last few months by a wave of higher crude oil prices. Although oil has dropped from its March 13 closing high of $109.17, it is still trading above $100 per barrel and keeping gasoline and diesel prices at or near record levels.
The U.S. retail price for gasoline set a new high of $3.29 a gallon after rising 3.1 cents over the last week, the federal Energy Information Administration said on Monday.
The national price for regular, self-service gasoline is up 58 cents from a year ago as expensive crude oil continued to be passed on to consumers at the pump, the Energy Department's analytical arm said in its weekly survey of service stations.
In the EIA's latest weekly survey, gasoline was the most expensive on the West Coast at $3.52 a gallon, up 0.6 cent. San Francisco had the highest city price at $3.65, down a penny.
The Gulf Coast states had the cheapest regional price at $3.21 a gallon, up 4 cents. Boston had the lowest city price, up 0.7 cent to $3.11.
The Associated Press, Reuters News Agency and Indianapolis Star contributed to this report.