EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series about America’s trucking crisis.
We move a lot of freight to and from Confer Plastics. On an annual basis, about 20 million pounds of products leave our facilities for destinations across the USA and Canada. During any given week, literally dozens of truck drivers make stops at our loading docks. So, we’ve seen and heard — and long known — about the woes facing them as they try to navigate a long-simmering driver shortage that has finally been made apparent to the masses.
We understand the trucker’s life is not an easy one. And, for many, it’s not a fulfilling one. So, how do does the industry rectify that and retain and recruit talent?
It all begins with value: What is a truck driver worth?
The quick answer: More than what they are getting now.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a driver is $47,130. More than 10% of them earn less than $30,600. If you look at it from an hourly perspective, and assume they are behind the wheel 60 hours a week, the median is comparable to an hourly wage rate of about $13 (using math of 40 hours of straight time plus 20 hours of overtime).
That small wage is a hard sell for a long-distance life on the road, especially when higher wages can be found in fast food joints or warehouses.
To make driving a truck more attractive, pay more. Much more. Truck drivers deserve a true salary, something outside the norm of income by miles or hours, to account for the time that is spent off the clock (for many, that previously mentioned $13 is an under-calculation as it’s well-known in the industry that many drivers do that while waiting, getting loaded, or performing maintenance so they don’t eat into their mandated maximum of road hours). Currently, the top 10% of drivers earn in excess of $69,480. A median much closer to that than the $47,130 — like the halfway point between the two, $58,305 — would certainly bring in talent.
That would then beg the question: Would the businesses that use their services be willing to pay more?
The response: We already are.
Earlier this year, before diesel costs really escalated, we found ourselves at the factory paying much more for shipments. For example, a truckload to Nevada was up 34%, Washington state was up 35%, and Indiana was 67% higher.
Those prices are all in response to scarcity. With a hot consumption economy and a driver shortage in excess of 80,000 truckers, it’s all supply-and-demand. Brokers and logistics companies can get what they want to book a load and they hold all the cards when it comes to where trucks go. That’s why, in the summer of 2020, my team had difficulty finding trucks to go to some regions. That's why, now, backlogs are so significant at the ports.
Talk to a manufacturer or retailer; we’d be willing to pay the high prices that we are now if they ensured scarcity was no longer a thing and truckers were adequately compensated. Reliability and fairness are important when it comes to running a business.
While income is a big issue, it’s not the end-all be-all. To further improve the lot of truckers the logistics world must address quality of life, too.
Trucking is a career that keeps drivers away from home for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. That’s unattractive to a trucker who is married or has children. They want — no, they deserve — family time. Trucking companies should make it a point to provide consistently-scheduled days of rest at the home front, ensuring a young driver can spend weekends with the kids or an older driver maybe gets designated weekdays as his “weekend” with his wife. Affording them time to be themselves and not at the mercy of the road and deadlines is not too much to ask.
Trucking is, beyond that issue of emotional heath, physically unhealthy, too. It’s a sedentary lifestyle, no different than when someone sits behind a desk all day. The office worker, though, has options when the workday is over — they can work out in the basement, visit the gym, or go for a hike. Other than the few outliers we know who carry free weights with them, a trucker really doesn’t have those options. Once he gets to his rest stop, that’s it; there are no trails and there are few gyms. That can be improved with a partnership between the rest stop proprietors and trucking trade groups, unions and firms. Collaborative investment can open more rest-stop gyms, like those that have been rolled out at some popular Pilot Flying J and TravelCenters of America sites across the country.
Income, quality of life, and health are just some of the many issues that need to be made right to ensure that the career is attractive for those in it and those who are yet to be recruited. These people deserve better. They’re worth it. They don’t just drive truck, they drive America’s economy.
Bob Confer of Gasport is the president of Confer Plastics Inc. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.