There have been rumblings about a truck convoy similar to that in Canada traveling across the U.S. starting this week. In Canada, the convoy began out of anger over a mandate that required drivers who relied on crossing the border into the U.S. to be vaccinated. Both countries require non-citizens crossing the border to prove that they're vaccinated, but Canada went a step farther to require the quarantine of unvaccinated Canadian citizens returning from the U.S.
For unvaccinated U.S. citizens coming back into the country, no such quarantine requirement exists, and the Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration’s proposed vaccine requirement for large employers.
The concept of a protest convoy in the U.S. appears to be borne out of frustration over a number of matters that have been left unaddressed for years. Pandemic-related frustrations play into it, but generally operators feel that elected officials and the public haven’t listened to them going back many years, and feel powerless to get officials’ attention.
Some believe that a convoy may be a means to garner attention to those causes.
While I don’t condone the convoy tactic because of its potential impact on the economy and a concern that it could hurt rather than help the cause of operators in the eyes of the public, I do understand the truckers’ frustration.
Over the last couple of years, much has been made of how essential truck drivers are to our country and economy. People appreciated that these drivers were out there daily to ensure that the rest of us had food, fuel, medical supplies and other critical goods.
Further, the public became aware during that time of the fragile nature of our supply chain and how integral operators are to it, and how the pressures on drivers and carriers have affected it.
The challenge for the trucking industry related to drivers has only grown as older drivers retire, while trucking has struggled to retain drivers and attract younger people in significant enough numbers to replace them as well as meet the additional freight demands of the country. The COVID pandemic, while improving the economics of trucking in many instances, seems to have exacerbated this problem.
Many have fixated on driver pay as the reason carriers have recruiting issues, but even as wages have substantially increased, trucking continues to struggle to attract and keep drivers on the payrolls. Compensation is an important consideration, yet other factors also provide a source of frustration for plenty haulers, including how little control drivers have over their work environment.
Operators are subject to a myriad of laws and regulations. In different states, they face different fees, taxes, and rules. This changing regulatory landscape really hit home during COVID when, almost overnight, drivers found themselves subject to new ordinances, rules, or mandates on a wide array of matters. In many cases, rules differed from one state or community to another, creating a confusing patchwork.
Another source of irritation has been the lack of adequate truck parking, safe and secure places where a driver can safely take the mandatory 10-hour daily rest period. While federal and state officials have promised to address this problem and have made it a national priority for a decade now, for many operators I know, it feels like there’s less parking available today than five years ago – and it’s probably an actual fact on many routes. Truck drivers now may spend up to an hour every evening just trying to find a place to take their break.
The failure to invest in our highways and bridges represents another sore spot. Many highways are riddled with potholes, which, if hit, can turn into a costly repair bill. Deficient bridges are weight-restricted, forcing drivers to take long detours around them. Drivers face more and more bottlenecks on their routes because of increased traffic and inaction by states to make critical improvements. Speeds on some of these corridors are slightly greater than a walking pace some times of the day.
While the federal government finally passed a measure to fund highways and bridge improvements last year, it will take years for many of those projects to make any difference at all.
Many shippers show little respect or concern for the very truck drivers who are critical to moving goods. Some shippers will not allow truck drivers to even use their restrooms. Some force drivers to wait for hours to be loaded, unloaded or receive signed paperwork. If a driver is almost out of driving hours, most shippers will not allow those drivers to take their mandatory rest break on the premises, forcing them to find a location off-site and risk a violation.
As we seek to address these related issues, trucking businesses and government must work together, listening closely to operators. More than anything else, truck drivers must be accorded greater respect.
We call them essential workers. It’s about time we start treating them accordingly.
[Related: How to pay drivers in respect, not just cash]