Joshua Collins is a 25-year old truck driver who is running in the Democrat primary election for Washington state’s 10th Congressional District, an area that includes state capital Olympia.
He drives with his wife (who also holds a CDL), and they haul expedited freight for shippers like FedEx and Amazon. He has been driving for five years and owns one truck. He considers himself a “democratic socialist” and believes that drivers' conditions led to his political views. (See his full platform here.) The primary is scheduled for August 2020.
Following is an edited conversation with Collins about how the government and corporations have failed workers especially drivers and how he would like to change that relationship.
What do you mean when you say that you're a Democratic Socialist?
Joshua Collins: I believe that workers should be given higher priority than corporations. When it comes to truck drivers, I think the needs of the actual drivers should be put above the needs of the corporations and industry stakeholders. In this country, we tend to focus on the financial investments of very wealthy people in businesses. But we don't talk about the physical, emotional and stress on one's body that a person invests into the work that they do.
When my grandfather was a truck driver it was a good job. The wages were good. You could expect a decent retirement. It was a more unionized industry. Today, the only labor protections drivers have are the out-of-service regulations. Other than that, we're not really protected in any way from being exploited and pushed beyond what is safe. A lot of drivers see the hours of service regulations as a limit to how much money they can make. In my opinion, you should be able to make a decent wage without having to drive 70 hours per week.
Driving a truck is not a healthy job. When someone has been driving for 30 years, they typically have a lot of health issues. They're spending 70 hours sitting in their truck and that's not a very natural thing for a human to be doing. In an ideal situation, you would have drivers working 40 or 50 hours a week, less if possible, while still making a decent middle-class wage.
How has driving shaped your politics?
Collins: I think the experience of a lot of truck drivers is very similar to mine where the government has failed them at every turn. When it comes to needing a college education, almost every truck driver saw that as something where the government failed them. We have millions of truck drivers and almost all of them are people who couldn't afford to go to college or couldn't afford to go into other industries. So, truck driving was, for a lot of us, including me, the only other option aside from maybe the military.
Some liberal policies that have been passed during my lifetime have taken into consideration the needs of corporations over the needs of workers and people in general. Take the Affordable Care Act. Instead of ensuring that everyone has health insurance – guaranteed and full-coverage – it made everyone buy private health insurance. We would do better off having a system where no matter what state you're in as a driver you have a single-payer Medicare-type for all insurance that you can use anywhere. You're covered.
How do you respond to the argument that a single-payer health system is too expensive, that the government cannot afford it?
Collins: We can afford it if we have a progressive tax. I think we should decrease the tax burden on people making less than $80,000 a year – and maybe even some for people making less than 120,000 a year. I think the top 10% of people could afford a higher tax burden. But largely, the biggest issue is that the income tax burden in this country has shifted from corporations onto individuals. During the last 30 to 40 years we've seen a giant shift of tax burden from corporations to individual people where it used to be the other way around. That's why you see companies like Amazon, Netflix and GE paying zero taxes. Whereas regular people generally don't get away with paying nothing.
Most truckers tend to be conservative. How do they respond to your 'socialist' beliefs?
Collins: I think a lot of that goes to misinformation – intentional misinformation. A lot of people say they don't like socialism because they don't like big government. I also don't like big government. In my ideal system, we would empower workers, not the government. That can be for things like ensuring that you have guaranteed health insurance no matter what happens. If you lose your job, you still have health insurance. And also, if you had a bad employer, you could go and find a different job without having to worry about health insurance. Guaranteed health care also allows you to start your own business; you don’t have to go months or even years without being able to afford healthcare. You're guaranteed it, so you can take that risk to start your own business.
New owner-operators know how expensive health insurance is on your own. And that applies to a lot of my philosophy. It shouldn’t be where the government is taking over industry. It should be a system where the government is empowering workers to actually make decisions that are best for them rather than what is best for the very wealthy or for rich politicians.
I usually get a pretty positive response from drivers especially when I talk about my plans on how to take care of drivers as it pertains to automation. Every truck driver understands that automation is eventually coming. My plans genuinely focus on taking care of workers who are going to be offset by that. For example, putting off automation and keeping automated trucks off the road until drivers are taken care of with decent retirement benefits or a guaranteed federal job, a job that is not automatable – or free education if they want to go into a different industry.
We need to ensure that automation isn't just funneling wealth to a small number on top of the world but is actually improving our society. The way we do that is by taxing automation and taxing the companies who are replacing humans with robots. We need to change the situation that exists today that when a company automates a job away and they don't pass the savings along to the consumer. Now, all of that [profit from automation] gets pocketed by executives and shareholders.
What else would you like to see change in the trucking industry?
Collins: The number one thing would be minimum freight rates. We should also talk about minimum mileage rates for company drivers. Driver pay needs to go up. We're in a situation where drivers are in such high demand, but the pay isn't reflecting that. That's why you see a giant shortage of drivers. And then, we should also talk about having a system where owner-operators are favored over mega-carriers.
You realize, of course, that you're fighting an uphill battle for your seat.
Collins: Even though I am a person without a lot of connections, without years of experience in politics, people are excited that there is a young truck driver running for Congress to represent the working class. And they are donating, small donations, hundreds and hundreds of donations. We're over $15,000 already. We're just getting started. That shows that we can surpass the financial obstacle. We're a grassroots campaign. I have pledged to knock on 25,000 doors before the primary. With volunteers, we expect to knock on 25,000 doors before the primary and 400,000 before the general election.