Blue Collar Bias Revisited
Several years ago I wrote a commentary for this space titled “Blue Collar Bias,” which addressed the lack of respect for the trades in our society. You can find that article in our online archives at www.PMmag.com. Simply type “Blue Collar Bias” in the Linx search engine atop the lead page and it will turn up.
The subject here is a different manifestation of blue-collar bias that's been cropping up in communities throughout the country. It's an issue that has flown under the radar of everyone except the victims and community newspapers.
Various communities around the country have passed ordinances that ban the parking of commercial vehicles in residential driveways for extended periods of time, like overnight. You'd think these laws would be limited to pretentious upper-income suburbs whose residents want plumbers' trucks in their driveways immediately when their sewer backs up, but otherwise hate to be reminded that some people earn their living so unfashionably.
However, it's not only the upper crust heaving with fits of snootiness. Even some working-class communities have passed such laws as well. This really stings, because these are the places where plumbers are likely to reside and have their lives disrupted.
Trade workers disproportionately suffer the consequences. These ordinances present one more obstacle to garage-shop entrepreneurs trying to start a business on a shoestring. They also mean service techs without a large enclosed garage cannot take their trucks home with them overnight, a common practice that enhances productivity. Most disturbing, these restrictions promote the lie that there's something shameful about being a trade worker.
The complaint here is not against zoning laws that prohibit operating a business out of one's home. Some home-based businesses can become neighborhood nuisances that generate excessive traffic, noise and signage. However, parking a plumbing truck on one's private property doesn't necessarily signify a home-based business, just someone who takes a company vehicle home for the sake of convenience. Certain ordinances fail to make that distinction.
Let's acknowledge that many plumbing trucks are eyesores. This magazine has long crusaded to upgrade our industry's image, and our “Truck of the Month” coverage is one way we try to raise the bar. If these ordinances were aimed specifically at the junkyard candidates, I probably wouldn't be writing this.
Instead, most of these laws end up banning all commercial vehicles from residential driveways, no matter how spiffed up they might be. People whose sensibilities get offended by these trivial intrusions of commerce into the neighborhood strike me as busybodies with way too much time on their hands.
Yet, as one who has spent decades participating in community affairs, I know it doesn't take much to stir up a mob mentality. A handful of activists with a pet peeve voice a complaint to the village board, write some letters to the local paper, and before you know it the community rallies to a cause nobody got worked up about before.
This is how little towns and villages come to be burdened with scores of picayune restrictions against spitting on the sidewalk and such. Most of these laws tend to become unenforced as time passes, but newly enacted ordinances are in the spotlight and more likely to suffer crackdowns.
Trade associations are always urging members to get involved with state and federal legislative affairs, but it is actually at the local level where people from our industry can exert the most influence.
A company that employs a half-dozen residents of a little town can gain enough support from family and neighbors to be heard over the screeching activists. People who feed their families thanks to the trucks in their driveways need to speak out. So do the trade associations and chambers of commerce who represent the people who bring dollars and valuable services to the community.
And, people with their noses upraised need to be reminded constantly how badly that air would smell without blue-collar workers tending to the grubby details of everyday life.