EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the last column in a 3-part series discussing America’s truck driver shortage.
We treat truck drivers like dirt.
By “we” I mean those of us outside the industry … businesses, government, citizens. It’s not just the trucking companies that have made truckers’ lives difficult. We, in our own ways, contribute daily to the frustration of drivers and the ensuing difficulty in recruiting and retaining talent for this incredibly important role within our economy.
It starts with the businesses.
Talk to any trucker. Every one one of them has horror stories about shipping and receiving departments that have treated them badly. The biggest issue: They don’t value drivers’ time.
Consider a large retail customer of Confer Plastics whom we had to correct earlier this year. The driver was over an hour late for his appointment. His punishment? He had to wait two days to have his trailer loaded.
Think about that. The man had places to be: On the road so he could have secured another load and more income; at home with family. But, instead, a warehouse worker with a god complex felt it best to teach him a lesson. At two days, that story is an extreme, but making drivers wait a half day if not a whole day is a regular occurrence, everywhere.
There are also many businesses that don’t value drivers’ comforts. Throughout the pandemic, there have been numerous reports of delivery drivers who weren’t afforded the ability to use the restroom at their destinations because they could be carrying Covid. Female drivers in Canada made the news after bringing this to light because they were dehumanized; many were told to pop a squat behind their truck. As they rightly claimed, such abuses — waiting for, then being denied, access — could lead to health concerns like kidney issues and urinary tract infections.
It’s not asking too much for corporations and small businesses to recognize that drivers’ time is valuable, as are the drivers themselves. Understand that they, too, have needs and wants. Recognize that they live by deadlines, too (their time is money just as yours is). Provide them a means to relieve themselves (even if it takes investing in an outhouse rental due to Covid protocols). Give them creature comforts (some places have trucker lounges) and extend a simple “thank you” (a gift card to a truck stop eatery means a lot).
This simple understanding needs to be undertaken by government because it, too, devalues truckers.
The proof is in the pudding with the infrastructure bill alone. You would think that truckers — the people whose “office” is our infrastructure — would have seen a little more respect with the proceedings.
As the infrastructure bill was being fleshed out, the Senate version included a provision that the minimum insurance coverage should go from $750,000 to a whopping $2 million. Currently, insurance will cost an owner-operator with authority (not one who leased to a carrier) somewhere between $9,000 and $16,000. Most readers of this paper know of someone in their community who has his own rig, and they know that family lives modestly because money’s tight in trucking. It would have become more so had the House of Representatives not scratched that requirement.
That same bill, as it passed both chambers, failed to properly address a major issue for drivers: parking. Truckers need safe, free places to park and rest when their hours of service have run out. Most actually forgo true working time in order to find such places, which only adds to backlogs. One study found that drivers use about 8 hours of their 11 allotted hours, and then stop to find parking. There are too few rest stops, public or private, with or without amenities. An amendment by Representative Mike Bost of Illinois would have allocated $1 billion (just 0.08% of the $1.2 trillion package) to parking. That was shut down and language was incorporated, sans funding, that simply said states should think about how to address the parking crisis.
Then, again, a government represents the people it serves. We as citizens make life a little difficult, if not dangerous, for drivers.
During my 40-minute afternoon commute I see more and more distracted drivers. On the police scanner I hear about an increasing amount of fair-weather accidents. Truck drivers have to share the roads with these people and hope they don’t lose their livelihood or life in the process. Yet, the false narrative remains that it’s the trucks that are dangerous. We must be better behind the wheel.
If there’s anything this series has taught us — if there’s anything the supply chain crisis has taught us — it’s that we must all treat truck drivers better if we want to ensure that we can get the products we want, the grocery shelves and warehouses are filled, and we get the energy that we need for our homes and workplaces. We have to make that career attractive, safe and vibrant. Without truckers our economy literally comes to a standstill.
Bob Confer of Gasport is the president of Confer Plastics Inc. Email him at email@example.com.