ROCHESTER Hills, Mich. (Dec. 18, 2001)—Everyone in the U.S., it seems, has been affected by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.
Thousands of people across the country lost loved ones or knew people who lost friends or relatives. Highways were closed and trucks were lined up for as long as 15 hours at some Canadian crossings, wreaking havoc with just-in-time auto parts delivery.
The nationwide shutdown of the commercial air system caused problems for companies such as United Parcel Service and Federal Express Corp. whose delivery guarantees went out the window.
Many trucking companies benefited as cargo that would have been put on planes was diverted to trucks and trains. During the flight ban, the U.S. Postal Service contracted with an additional 6,000 to 7,000 trucking companies to help move the mail.
Those of us who weren't personally affected felt a deep sense of loss and grief as we struggled to come to grips with the horrific acts that had been waged against us. We gave unprecedented support to charities and relief agencies that rushed to aid survivors of the attacks.
However, we found in the weeks after the attacks that these dastardly deeds had impacted our freedoms too, as gun-toting soldiers now stand guard at airports and borders and security checks that were put in place at football games, concerts and other large-scale public events.
With the dust settling at ground zero, we now are discovering that our businesses also have been affected by the 9-11 events. Before that date, the economic outlook was promising.
The economy was slow but there were signs that the worst was over. Consumer spending still was strong, which kept it chugging along.
Many economists thought we had hit bottom and would soon see a slight increase in freight for the trucking industry and improvements for business in general.
However, since 9-11 consumers have reined in spending, manufacturers have reduced production and laid off workers, and the economy now officially is in a recession.
The September economic collapse caused freight volume to decline at a 5-percent annual rate in the third quarter after a similar drop in the previous period.
While new truck sales had taken a nosedive before 9-11 due to the lagging economy, truck makers were hoping a year-end economic upturn would bring buyers back. However, September truck sales dropped 23 percent from August and were the lowest since the recession of 1992.
With a recovery pushed back to at least mid-2002, manufacturers now are cutting truck production, laying off workers and even closing plants. This naturally has impacted truck tire sales. Sales to truck manufacturers are off 35 percent, which closely matches the drop in new truck sales. Replacement truck tire sales are off 9 percent.
The drop in replacement tire sales should be expected since trucks are not running the miles and grinding off the tread rubber they did last year.
Acquiring insurance will become even more painful as a direct result of the attack on America. For more than a year now, the trucking and tire industries have been rocked by an insurance “market adjustment.” Basically, that meant insurance claims exceeded insurance company revenues—so rates went up.
While everyone expected rates to level off a few months ago, now another “market adjustment” is almost guaranteed. The terrorist attacks will be one of the costliest insurance disasters in U.S. history. The tally in insurance claims is currently estimated at $50 billion.
In the past when insurance companies have been hit hard with major disasters, they were able to make up some of the losses through investments, but with the stock market in its own slump, they have no choice but to raise premiums. Insurance brokers and agents are warning of rate hikes from 30 to 100 percent, depending upon the type of coverage you need.
Retaining good employees also got harder since 9-11. Dealers with employees in the military reserves or National Guard could see them called to active duty. The American Trucking Association estimates as many as 170,000 U.S. truck drivers could be called away from their driving jobs to perform military service.
I don't know the equivalent number in the tire industry, but if you have employees in the reserves, you are obligated by the Uniform Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) to grant them military leave for training, weekend duty, summer camps, fitness for duty examinations as well as active duty.
Only if an employee's prior military leave is more than five years may future leave be denied. USERRA does not require employers to pay these employees during military leaves.
If a company policy has been established that the company will voluntarily pay reserves the difference between their regular wage and their military pay then payment is required.
Keep in mind that employers are free to fill vacancies left by employees on military leave, but a returning service member is entitled to re-employment in the position he or she left, regardless of whether another employee is occupying that position.
From a national security standpoint, the events of Sept. 11 have focused attention on the trucking industry as never before.
An investigation after the attack netted 21 men on charges related to fraudulently obtaining commercial driver's licenses, many of which included permits to haul hazardous material. The concern is that terrorists will use “hazmat” trucks to deliver weapons of mass destruction.
Authorities say the 800,000 hazardous material shipments crisscrossing America's roads each day are the No. 1 highway security concern and the logical avenue for a terrorist. The possibility of using a hazardous material truck or other commercial vehicle for a terrorist attack never came up before, but now it's the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's top concern.
Out of some 80,000 hazmat haulers in the U.S., this agency plans to visit before year's end the 52,000 that carry the most dangerous cargoes: bulk explosives, anhydrous ammonia, petroleum products and poisonous gases to discuss security issues and suggest ways to improve company systems.
If there is any good that came from the terrorist attacks it's that the people of this country—with their incredibly diverse ethnic origins, religions and political viewpoints—have united in a way I would never have imagined possible and renewed their patriotism.
Tragedy has brought out the best in each of us, as everyone in his own way has rallied to support those impacted by the tragedies. This is true of the tire industry, too. All the major tire companies have donated millions of dollars as well as tires and service assistance to help in the relief and recovery efforts.
Tire dealers have initiated their own local fund raising efforts and forwarded the proceeds to relief agencies as well. Everyone has pitched in to help and assist in this common cause.
I agree with President Bush that the U.S. should return to normal routines to help the economy recover. But I sincerely hope that the hearts and minds of the American people do not return to their pre-9-11 state.
I hope that this new era of caring and giving we're exhibiting stays with us for years to come.
Ms. Fisher is president of Fleet Tire Consulting in Rochester Hills, Mich.