A commercial truck driver of nearly 20 years, Ken Azarkiewicz has one word to describe his Coronavirus pandemic experience: gratitude.
In North America, truck drivers are considered essential workers, as they’re integral parts of the food, medical supplies, and essential goods supply chain. Many commercial drivers are grateful to have work, unlike so many Canadians and Americans who must now claim emergency benefits, but they nevertheless face serious challenges.
Azarkiewicz has been driving with Argus Transport for over two years. What he loves the most about his job is the sense of freedom when he’s alone on the road. Though he works long hours, often driving to the north eastern U.S. states, his schedule works for him and his family. In fact, his son now works as a driver alongside him at Argus Transport – something his son had never planned on doing, but a it’s job that now serves him well. We talked to Azarkiewicz on April 18th, 2020, about his everyday challenges during this terrible time.
Ken, how has your life changed since the Coronavirus started causing havoc in North America?
Well in terms of my work life, nothing that much has changed! I’m alone in my truck when I’m working, so there’s no real chance for contamination there. I’d say the biggest changes would be the nonstop hand washing, sanitizing everything, keeping that 6 feet apart from people, and not being able to shake hands.
Do you normally shake a lot of hands in your line of work?
I can’t speak for others, but yeah, I do! For me, shaking hands is the just part of building a good relationship with clients, and it’s a sign of respect. Actually, being fastidiously clean has come easily to me, but avoiding the handshake has been hard.
Are there any moments where you really worry about catching the virus?
Well, there’s a lot of paperwork that gets exchanged between hands. For example, there’s the packing slip, the bill of lading, information about the merchandise, and more. We hand papers to customs officers and customers, and they hand it back. It means im constantly sanitizing my hands and putting paper into envelopes. It would be nice if that whole paper exchange process could be digital. Not only would it be contactless, but it would be easier to keep track of the paper trail.
What are some of the other challenges drivers like you are facing?
There have been stories of truckers finding it hard to access basic amenities. Some freight terminals and gas stations are refusing to let anyone use washrooms. I know a lot of the state rest stations in the U.S. are closed. Places to eat are getting scarce too. In general, it can be really hard to find a place to sleep in the truck over night.
So, what have you been doing regarding these issues?
Peronally, I’m usually home every other night, so I’m not a driver that goes days without showering. I always keep wet wipes, a water mist bottle, toiletries, and changes of clothes with me – I’m always clean no matter what. When it comes to having a place to spend the night, I just call ahead and ask our customers if I can park on their property. Some big box retailers don’t like drivers parking on their lot, but we have really good relationships with our clients. Over the years they’ve gotten to know me, and they know Argus drivers are respectful and don’t litter, so parking overnight is never a problem for me personally.
Have you noticed any difference in workflow now that the Argus admin and support team are mostly working from home?
Honestly, it makes no difference! They seem to conduct business from their homes just fine. A few people are in the office, though spaced out. They have huge tubs of sanitizer and signs posted everywhere. They remind us about COVID-19 protocol through memos all the time.
It sounds like you’re fairly unconcerned about the pandemic.
That’s not true – I’m pretty nervous! I’m really happy to be able to keep my job, but make no mistake, it can be scary. I’m scared to use someone else’s pen when I have to sign papers, and I keep my distance from people, especiall in areas where the problem is worse, like New Jersey. Of course, the economic downturn is a huge concern, not to mention how many people are battling the disease. I listen to the news while I drive and you hear really sad stories – it can be hard to remain positive. Again, I’m just grateful I have this job.
Do you think the looming recession will affect your work?
It might, but I can’t really say. I was a driver during the last recession around 2008, and I was still working.
What would you say to someone contemplating becoming a driver?
A lot of people want to go into this line of work because the pay is really good, but if your heart isn’t in it, you’re not likely to last. You have to be ok with long hours, you gotta love driving. You’re also responsible for this incredibly expensive truck and the millions of dollars of merchandise you’re transporting. I always loved trucks and big machinery, so I’m not surprised that I ended up being a trucker. Actually, I went to college and wanted to be an archeologist! But I fell into this, and I’m glad I did.
Do you think company culture affects how drivers from different companies are affected by COVID-19?
Well, I know that Argus is really like a family company. If I have a problem, I can speak to the executives directly, and the problem gets fixed. I think drivers in all companies are facing similar problems, but the difference in this case is that Argus leadership is really there for us and listens to us. You definitely don’t get that close relationship in other companies.