The Investigative Unit exposes hundreds of violations at Sysco Foods for big rig drivers logging too many hours behind the wheel on Bay Area roads. Vicky Nguyen reports on Nov. 27, 2013.
The company motto is “Good things come from Sysco.” The world’s largest food distributor touts its reliable, efficient delivery of fresh food to restaurants, schools, and hospitals all over North America. But is that efficiency coming at the cost of putting fatigued big rig drivers behind the wheel?
The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit discovered Sysco drivers in the Bay Area are racking up violations for driving much longer hours than the law, and common sense, dictate.
Seven months of Sysco Corporation records obtained by NBC Bay Area show dozens of Sysco big rig drivers in the Bay Area have logged hundreds of violations for working more than one 16-hour shift in a week, a direct violation of federal laws. Department of Transportation regulations restrict drivers from working more than one 16-hour shift per seven day period to provide for adequate rest between shifts and to prevent fatigued drivers from posing a public safety hazard.
The violations were undetected by law enforcement and the public until now.
“If they’re over hours, obviously they could create a hazard and a concern to everyone out there,” CHP officer Paul McIntyre said. “That’s a very, very serious issue we are concerned with as a department--making sure these drivers are not in excessive hours.”
The Investigative Unit reviewed computerized logs maintained by Sysco San Francisco for more than 150 drivers from April to October. The logs showed drivers were recorded driving more than one 16-hour shift in a week every month with a significant spike in August.
That month, records show 98 violations. August was also the first full month Sysco San Francisco stopped using dirty, unrefrigerated, sheds and personal vehicles to deliver perishable food items such as raw meat, dairy and vegetables. An NBC Bay investigation exposed the company’s practices in July, and prompted the $43 billion company to shutdown its sheds throughout the United States and Canada, meaning more deliveries for drivers.
State and federal regulators are now in the fourth month of their investigation into the Sysco food sheds, which regulators said could result in major fines for the food distributor.
Sysco Corporation again declined to be interviewed about why the company’s drivers are logging multiple 16-hour shifts in a week. They company did provide a statement reading in part, “The people of Sysco San Francisco who deliver products to their customers are extremely focused on safety. They are well-trained and well-prepared to perform the duties of servicing their customers.”
The company cited the Department of Transportation’s website, which shows that in the past two years, Sysco has only been cited twice by law enforcement for driving violations. Neither was for driving over hours.
In addition to tracking violations, DOT’s website also tracks accidents involving Sysco big rigs, including the most recent crash on Sept. 11 across the San Mateo Bridge.
Barrett Masso was behind the wheel when he felt the full force of a Sysco big rig at 55MPH as it collided into his car, stalled on the side of the road. He said he was stopped on the far right lane of the Highway 92 eastbound with his hazard lights on, waiting for a tow truck when he saw the lights of the semi in his rear view mirror.
“Initially I thought he was going to change lanes like the other vehicles but when he started getting closer and the speed wasn’t dropping that’s when I thought I was gonna go into the bay,” Masso said. He turned around and gripped his driver’s seat, bracing himself for the impact.
“I remember it hitting. I don’t remember anything after that point,” Masso said. “When I woke up I was actually in the passenger seat.” Masso said he suffered a torn ligament in his knee and a herniated disc in his back, but he’s grateful it wasn’t worse.
Timeline: NBC Bay Area Investigation Into Sysco Corporation and Food Safety
While the CHP crash report cites “unsafe speed” and “inattention” as part of the cause of the crash, it doesn’t detail whether the driver was fatigued. Sysco records indicate the driver was not driving over hours at the time of the crash, but company records flagged the driver for six violations of driving over hours in the previous five months
“It’s very important that CHP and DOT investigate this because it’s very unsafe for everybody out there on the road,” a former Sysco San Francisco driver said. He asked to remain anonymous because he still drives trucks in the Bay Area, but showed NBC Bay Area Sysco paystubs from the years he spent behind the wheel of a Sysco big rig.
“They’re keeping the Sysco drivers out there too long,” he said. “The longer you keep [them] out there, the more risk the drivers have of causing an accident.”
Finding the drivers who have logged too many hours behind the wheel can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. CHP officers have to rely on random highway stops to check drivers’ logs, as well as inspections of company terminals, but those are routinely done once every two years.
According to the CHP, 37,912 tickets were issued between Jan. 1 to Oct. 31 for violations for commercial vehicles, which includes big rigs, in the Bay Area. Those citations are for violations ranging from speeding to mechanical issues. The data doesn’t break down how many tickets were given for drivers logging more than one 16-hour shift, because they fall under the category of “log book violations.” But the CHP reports just 85 citations, or .2% of the citations, were for log book violations, which include citations for driving over hours.
NBC Bay Area asked how a company can log nearly 100 violations for driving over hours in a single month. McIntyre said, “It seems quite excessive but there are times where we see that quite often on the highway where the driver is pushing the limits.”
The CHP is now investigating Sysco San Francisco after learning of the violations uncovered by NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit.
Sysco San Francisco Full Statement:
The people of Sysco San Francisco who deliver products to their customers are extremely focused on safety. They are well-trained and well-prepared to perform the duties of servicing their customers. In the aggregate, the number of hours worked by Sysco San Francisco’s delivery people is well within the allowable limits prescribed by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the California Highway Patrol. With respect to the accident that occurred on September 11, the incident remains under review by the proper authorities and thus, as a matter of policy, Sysco San Francisco cannot comment.