The frequent declarations by trucking companies that there are not enough drivers runs counter to the fact that there are many times more commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) issued than there are jobs in the industry.
The facts are that with unemployment below 4%, drivers are making personal choices to change employers and industries to find a safe, steady job that will enable them to provide a reasonably comfortable life for themselves and their families—assuming their family members are willing to put up with irregular appearances of their bread winner.
As those are few and far between, turnover rates are exceeding 90% for many operators. The 80,000-plus open jobs story in trucking is prima facie evidence that the pay and working conditions for the vast majority or drivers is inadequate.
The constant drum beat by the American Trucking Association (ATA) and their members about the “critical shortage” is beginning to get blowback from the public, unions, and political leaders familiar with the industry. In a high-profile move, Walmart announced recently that their employee drivers will have new pay ranges from $95,000 to $110,000 in their first year.
You may have read the telling anecdote of a large dairy company in Maine that lost a lawsuit by drivers to the tune of $5 million. The story goes that the state has an overtime exemption for agricultural workers who do pick-and-pack work. The company’s attorneys thought they found a loophole in the law in the sentence: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: Agricultural produce; meat and fish products; and perishable foods.”
The sentence does not have a comma after “shipment” and the dairy chose to ignore this, allowing them, they thought, to not pay truck driver employees any overtime as they are part of “distribution.” The comma at the end of a three-or-more item list is called an Oxford comma. This is important. Its absence means the activity is packing, not “packing for shipment, and distribution.” The drivers are not part of packing for shipment and distribution.
The drivers were entitled to overtime and the court ruled in their favor. Why a company would try to withhold $5 million from hourly workers is a disturbing question. If you talk with drivers, as I do, you will hear many such stories.
The key point is that the commercial driver must trust the person assigning them work. The worst stories I hear are about long-haul drivers and freight brokers. Drivers looking for loads are often at their mercy as they try to get backhauls, and there is no reading of “the fine print” when you are trying to get home to see your kids. The drivers are often waiting for long periods at locations with no bathroom for zero pay.
There are two mega trends that are causing the driver shortage. First, the industry is rapidly consolidating to fewer large shippers, fleet operators and brokers. Bigger companies exhibit less empathy with employees and put more pressure on productivity and lower costs.
Second, drivers are often at the bottom of the key employee list at all but the best organizations. They’re not visible at large companies, and their usual contact is with a dispatcher, who might be the second lowest ranked employee, and a former driver.
Deals in daily transportation operations are mostly verbal with paperwork to follow. If you offer a safe, meaningful job with fair wages they will come. Smart move Walmart.
About the Author
Peter Moore is Adjunct Professor of Supply Chain at Georgia College EMBA Program, Program Faculty at the Center for Executive Education at the University of Tennessee, and Adjunct Professor at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. Peter writes from his home in Hilton Head Island, S.C., and can be reached at [email protected]
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