Trucker claims he was fired for refusing to break downtime laws - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Trucker claims he was fired for refusing to break downtime laws

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

GASTON, SC (WIS) - The trucking industry is a critical component of the American economy. One estimate says 80 percent of nation's communities rely solely on trucks for fuel, medicine and other vital commodities.

But drivers of the big rigs have to follow rules set by the government, and a Gaston man says he lost his job when he refused to break those rules.

Victor Harris took a few minutes Thursday afternoon to play with a new addition to his family, but he has more time on his hands than he'd prefer. Until he lost his job this summer, Harris had spent seven years developing the considerable skills of a long haul trucker.

"It's really intimidating for a male or female to get behind something that big, and drive it at 65 miles per hour or better down the road, having a time limit to have to get there," said Harris.

Harris says it's not easy to make a living driving big rigs. He tried being an owner-operator, but that ended last year when his cab caught fire and burned up in the driveway of his home in Gaston.

The hours he says can be tough on a young family like his. "It's hard to do," said Harris. "There's just not enough hours in the day.

But Harris says it was even harder for him to cope with what he says was pressure from his employer to deliver cargo long distances on schedule and still comply with federal regulations that require all drivers to rest after being on the road for a certain number of hours.

Harris says a few months ago, the Columbia-based company he was driving for gave him an assignment that was impossible without violating the law. When he insisted on taking the legally required downtime, he was in effect laid off.

"The owners of the companies, they live in these big old houses," said Harris. "They drive the big cars. Everybody comes to work in $500 suits. But because I won't run 77 hours instead of 70 hours, I don't have a job."

Harris says many drivers face the same pressures to exceed legal limits or falsify their log books, a danger for them and others on the nation's highways. "90 percent of the truck drivers on the road right now are working with less than four hours of sleep, I'm going to be totally honest with you," said Harris. "Lot of accidents because truck drivers are pushing and pushing and pushing."

Harris is planning a lawsuit against his former employer. His attorney was not available to speak on camera, but said some of the practices her client describes are "rampant" in the trucking industry.

Copyright 2010 WIS. All rights reserved.

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