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How the shutdown of transport company Yellow could have ripple effects for truckers

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There's big news out of the trucking industry today. Roughly 30,000 workers are losing their jobs as the shipping company Yellow appears to have shut down operations. It's one of the country's largest carriers, specializing in small freights that don't quite take up a full truck. And the closure of Yellow would likely affect how certain goods will continue to be delivered. For more, we're joined by Alex Mai. He's a trucker who runs the Mutha Trucker YouTube channel, which is all about trucking news. Welcome.

ALEX MAI: No. I appreciate you so much. Thanks for having me on your show.

CHANG: Appreciate you. Well, can you first real briefly tell us, like, the context around Yellow's place in the trucking industry? Like, how does it differ from, say, FedEx or UPS or other shipping companies that people may have heard of before?

MAI: Put it plain and simple, Yellow pretty much almost made their hundred-year mark right at 99 years.

CHANG: Yeah.

MAI: So it has gone three generationals (ph) of truck drivers. You know, it's the third-largest LTL carrier.

CHANG: And LTL, to explain to people, these are trucks that carry not quite a whole truck load.

MAI: Less than truck load. So if you're a business and you don't want to pay for the whole trailer, you're going to pay for a portion of it.

CHANG: Yeah.

MAI: So imagine how many businesses want to order a fraction of it. So a line haul driver that will drive it across America will drop it off at their main terminal, and then a city driver will then start doing their drop-offs to their businesses around town. So this is going to affect businesses locally for sure, 100%.

CHANG: OK. So we should note that we haven't yet heard from Yellow itself regarding this apparent shutdown. We did reach out to them for comment, just haven't heard back. This news came from the Teamsters Union, which represents thousands of truckers who work for Yellow. What was your personal reaction when you first heard this news from the Teamsters?

MAI: Oh, my gosh. It was just crazy to hear because Yellow has been bailed out a few times. In 2020, the CARES Act, $700 million to be billed out. So the 30,000 drivers in total thought that there was a chance that there'd be a bailout or something was going to happen. Till the very end, drivers didn't know if they had a job yet, and some didn't know until I made a video about it on YouTube yesterday.

CHANG: Yeah. Tell me more about that. This was essentially a memorial video for Yellow, right? Like, I understand you've heard from a bunch of truckers who worked for Yellow. What have they told you in response to this video? What are they concerned about right now?

MAI: They're sad that they might not have a pension. I had a driver that said he put in 37 years, and he knew that he was going to get X amount of dollars every single month after he retired. And now he doesn't even know if he can retire. They're hurt. They're in pain. And they feel lied to. Can you imagine not knowing if you have a job or not, and all you have is a piece of paper that says we ceased operations?

CHANG: I mean, that's brutal. Well, based on what you know now, how do you think this is going to affect the trucking industry as a whole going forward?

MAI: You know, when people wanted to get something shipped LTL, Yellow was just a more affordable option to ship with. And now that option is gone. So now, any business that needs product have to pick one of the normal options. If the business has to pay more, the consumer is going to have to pay more.

CHANG: Given that Yellow is apparently shutting down, and also given that UPS recently avoided a potentially catastrophic strike over a labor deal, what would you say that we're seeing right now across the trucking industry at the moment? What's happening?

MAI: So trucking's actually at its worst. If I gave you the example of something called an owner operator, that's a single truck driver that owns his own truck. Fuel prices are high. Insurance prices are high. And the rates that they're getting paid per mile are low. Just say it cost $1.50 a mile to run your truck with insurance and fuel and all that. There are rates right now that are paying them $1.20 a mile. As an American person, would you work for free? Would you work for a loss? That's what truck drivers are doing right now. And we're losing our shirts and our business. So you'll see more companies go out of business because of this.

CHANG: That is Alex Mai. He's a trucker who runs the Mutha Trucker YouTube channel. Thank you so much for joining us today.

MAI: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Tinbete Ermyas
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.