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What’s the Trucking Industries’ Real Problem? Trucker Shortage or Pay Shortage?


trucker pay pay shortageI regularly get releases about the shortage of drivers in the trucking industry, the reasons behind it, the costs associated with it, and who are the best hires to solve the problem. And then I hear from a couple of pals who do drive trucks.

Full disclosure: I have never been a truck driver. My commercial-driving background dealt with passengers in a livery service. Said passengers were generally well behaved—especially the departed in the back of a hearse—and often well-to-do. Although I made some trips that had me out of the garage for 18 or 20 hours, anything overnight involved a decent hotel room, good food, and occasionally a headline show. I’m confident saying truckers don’t have the same level of food and accommodation I had, and they’re on the road a lot longer.

Among the people pitched recently as great sources for truck-driving candidates are veterans and non-violent felons, and I’m not here to advocate for or against either. For my two cents—overpriced at that—veterans seem an obvious choice, except I surmise the majority of them are used to working as a team, not solo. Then again, if you’ve spent years in close quarters with others, maybe your own space and open spaces are inviting. Unaware what defines “non-violent” that’s probably a good idea and as long as felons know they did something stupid to become a felon and the gravity of repeating it, why not.

Then I talk to truckers. Signing bonuses seem optimistic at best. The hours suck. Car (and pickup) drivers suck. Law enforcement gets carried away sometimes—but that happens to car drivers sometimes. “No sir, I did not know I’m supposed to have a front plate. I’m not from this state, that’s why I have a rental car.” Writing someone for having a taillight out when there are eight working others and clearance lamps is just a waste of everyone’s time.

One of my friends has years of experience driving big rigs, including in rust-belt winters, with no accidents, tickets or anything else. I never asked about any oversize load training but know he has his hazmat creds. He works for one of the largest trucking companies in the U.S. (not FedEx, UPS or Walmart) and drives a relatively recent assigned-to-him tractor. In the last couple of weeks he’s had the pleasure of sitting away from home for 40 hours in one location, frequently driving just four or five hours a day (and the company does not cover rooms, showers or food) and brought home a weekly paycheck of $164.

The company he works for logged adjusted income well above $100,000,000 dollars last year.

I’m neither economist nor rocket scientist but it seems to me if that’s how drivers are being treated it is no wonder the trucking industry is having trouble staffing drivers. After all, the kid next door who works at a burger joint brings that home from two shifts, knows when he works and sleeps in his own bed.

GR Whale

GR Whale has been breaking parts for 45 years and writing about it for 30. An award-winning writer, he's served as Technical Editor on a few magazines, been published in more than 40 outlets and quit counting at one million miles and 10,000 vehicles driven. Equally comfortable with vehicles to 56,000 GVW or sports cars, he'd rather be sailing. He owns nothing newer than 2006 and holds no positions with any automaker.

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