In a live segment aired last week on Fox News’ spinoff Fox Business, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Acting President Todd Spencer fielded questions from host Stuart Varney about — what else? — the country’s “serious shortage of truck drivers,” as Varney put it.
Questionably filed under the headline “Truck industry leader blames big business for driver shortage,” (That wasn’t exactly Spencer’s point — he instead blamed inflationary-based reductions in driver pay in the last few decades, among other issues, for the so-deemed shortage), Varney posed a few seemingly little-researched questions to Spencer about OOIDA’s take on the reason carriers have trouble retaining good drivers.
Shortly after introducing Spencer — and before even asking a question — Varney espoused his own suspicions as to why he thinks there’s a driver shortage. “It’s because you can’t find guys or people with clean records who can pass a drug test. That’s the problem is it?”
Spencer laughed, noting a “more beneficial reply is that pay for drivers has been falling for decades, while the demand and responsibilities of the job have been going exactly the opposite. It will always be difficult to find people to do jobs that are hard that don’t really pay much,” he said. Varney continued to push his point, to little success with Spencer backing it. Spencer said higher driver pay — and more respect for drivers — could lure more people to the driving job.
In a separate interview with Overdrive last week after the live Fox interview aired, Spencer reiterated a point he made on the air: driver wages are effectively half of what they were in 1980, when compared to the most commonly used measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index. In the Fox interview, Varney seemed credulous, asking Spencer, “they were making $80,000 30 years ago and $40,000 now?” The question, which was asked in seriousness and seemingly misunderstanding Spencer’s point about inflation, drew another small laugh from Spencer.
Spencer’s stat is in line with what the National Transportation Institute, which tracks driver pay, has reported in recent years. In early 2016, NTI head Gordon Klemp said the buying power of driver pay today is almost a third of what it was in 1980. If adjusted to 2015 dollars, driver pay would need to be $111,000 a year to match what truckers earned in 1980, said Klemp then.
“The model that passes in trucking right now is to pay drivers only for miles driven and nothing for their time,” Spencer said last week when I spoke to him via phone. “That basically encourages people to waste a driver’s time. But they don’t look at it like they’re wasting drivers’ time. They look at it like they’re maximizing their own efficiency. They don’t have to place any cost or value on drivers’ time.”
Near the end of the roughly 5-minute interview, Varney again asserted his own thoughts on the driver shortage: “The obvious answer is autonomous, self-driving trucks, which are coming down the pike. I know you’re laughing, but that is the answer to the driver shortage, isn’t it?”
To close, Varney thanked Spencer for “straightening him out” and said he “takes his hat off to the truckers of the world.”
Spencer said Fox reached out to OOIDA for the interview, the video of which you can see at the top of the post.