Driver retention issue draws attention to trucking roundtable
After years of perseverance on the part of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the issue of driver retention has taken center stage before officials from the US Department of Transportation and the US Department of Labor.
On Thursday, July 8, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Acting FMCSA Administrator Meera Joshi hosted a roundtable with trucking industry stakeholders, including the President from OOIDA, Todd Spencer, to discuss driver recruitment and retention.
Although the American Trucking Associations have long presented the problem as a driver shortage problem, much of the roundtable discussion focused on the high turnover rates of large fleets. For decades, OOIDA has argued that the problem was not the inability to hire long-haul truckers, but rather an inability to keep them in place due to low wages and poor working conditions.
As part of the discussion, the FMCSA noted that the turnover rates for large long-haul carriers are above 90% and around 72% for smaller carriers.
“Driver retention is really fundamental to the resilience of our supply chain, from job stability to overall road safety,” Joshi said. “I am grateful to the millions of men and women who transport more than 70% of our country’s freight across the country on a daily basis. This event is really about their workplace and working conditions.
Buttigieg said it doesn’t matter how many people the industry recruits to be truck drivers if the industry is set up in such a way that a majority of them will want to leave.
“It strikes me that another way of looking at it is something like a leaky bucket, and that no matter how many people we dump into the industry for a while, it won’t do much for us. unless the jobs are reliable enough, secure enough and stable enough that people want to stay in the industry, ”Buttigieg said. “And, hopefully, also stick around long enough with an individual employer… to see some of the safety gains that we know to correlate not only with time spent behind the wheel… but with time spent in a particular organization.”
Industry stakeholders included representatives from groups such as OOIDA, ATA and the Teamsters, as well as security advocates and academic experts.
Much of the discussion revolved around the idea that better pay and better working conditions would keep more drivers and ultimately increase road safety.
Salary and working conditions
“Trucking is a tough life,” said Spencer, who started his career as a truck driver and still holds a commercial driver’s license. “He demands the best, and he demands the best. As we learned during the pandemic, trucking is a vital industry. But it’s everyday. It is still essential. And the issues now with retention, every employer across the country has it right now. The secret is wages, benefits and working conditions.
Currently, pay and working conditions for truckers are not great, Spencer said. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for truck drivers was $ 47,130 in 2020. While this is well above the US median personal income of $ 35,977, it seems a lot less if l We consider the number of hours that truckers work and that they often do so without being able to return home for weeks.
“I have to stress that for a truck driver it’s not a 40 hour week,” Spencer said. “It’s usually 60, 70, 80 hours and sometimes more of actual work. And then there is more time that goes with it. So, yes, it’s a very, very demanding job. And realistically, the economic benefits have not kept pace in the past 40 years since our industry was deregulated. And, you know, it seems like catching them up is a very, very elusive goal.
“Your salary is determined by what you can be replaced for. And at the moment, it’s not that much money.
Improve the quality of work
Steve Viscelli, professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “The Big Rig, Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream,” said the solution was clear.
“We need to improve the quality of existing trucking jobs,” said Viscelli. “We have to make sure that all of the drivers’ time is counted and well paid and that the drivers are properly classified. Ultimately what we need to do is promote the retention of experienced and safe drivers. “
The biggest problem is with entry-level trucking jobs where the pay is often the lowest and the conditions are the worst, Viscelli said.
“Our current pilot pipeline is organized backwards,” he said. “It throws workers into the deep end with almost no support. They start in schools with little investment in their long-term success, and then most of them can only get the toughest jobs for weeks or months without the systems promising free training, but then lock workers into a year of work 80 or more hours per week, often for minimum wage or less.
More work to do
The U.S. Department of Transportation and FMCSA said they will continue to engage regularly with industry stakeholders to address driver retention and other issues in the trucking industry.
“There is definitely more work to be done and it will be detailed, complex, thorough,” said Joshi. “I’m not going to say there is a magic wand. There certainly isn’t. Someone would have agitated him already. But we are committed to doing this job, no matter how difficult and challenging it is. ” LL