The White House is getting mixed marks for a set of initiatives released today that are designed to expand job opportunities for truckers, in the government’s latest move to reduce supply chain disruptions and stem inflation.
The moves follow previous steps such as cutting red-tape in obtaining Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs) and scaling up driver apprenticeship programs. In other actions related to logistics operations, President Biden in 2021 signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that funds road and bridge repair, and is soon expected to also codify the Postal Service Reform Act and Ocean Shipping Reform Act, that have both passed broad-based House and Senate votes and are now proceeding through reconciliation committees.
Despite those steps, logistics operations across the country continue to be bogged down by challenges such as the lingering pandemic, container backups at shipping ports, labor shortages, and growing inflation concerns. The Administration’s latest move to address those supply chain ills comes as the freight sector is struggling to handle the volume of goods awaiting distribution. “Trucking costs grew more than 20% last year as a surge in demand for goods caused by the pandemic confronted a decline in trucking employment that preceded the pandemic. The low supply of drivers is driven by high turnover and low job quality,” the White House today said in a release.
To address those challenges, the White House today pointed to a range of programs intended to recruit more veterans and women, create more a more equitable vehicle leasing market by addressing “predatory truck leasing arrangements,” and address problems like detention time and compensation, parking places, and better workplace safety.
While those strategies could likely add new truckers at a critical time, they may not help the overall flow of goods throughout the country unless they are matched by similar surges at other supply chain choke points, according to the temporary labor platform Instawork, which is focused on the warehouse and logistics marketplaces. “While these actions are welcome ones, increasing truckloads of goods has the potential to put more pressure on already-stressed U.S. warehouses, many of which are already struggling with staffing shortages,” Instawork said in a release.
The truck drivers industry group Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) likewise lauded the program for many of its component steps—such as improvements to truck parking, detention time, driver compensation—but said more work was needed. “The Biden Trucking Action Plan remains a mixed bag of policies intended to improve jobs and employment opportunities within the industry… Today’s update notes significant progress on establishing apprenticeship programs and plenty of funding to help states expedite CDLs , but we have yet to really see any substantive actions that can help keep new or current drivers in the industry long-term,” OOIDA said in statement.
Stronger praise came from The Teamsters Union, which said the Biden administration during the past 90 days has made substantial progress towards addressing critical issues for drivers. “The Biden administration is doing a good job at addressing our concerns,” Sean O’Brien, Teamsters General President, said in a release. “If companies want to fill openings, they need to pay well and provide good benefits, treat their workers with respect, and make sure they are well trained.”
The fleet owners industry group American Trucking Associations (ATA) also praised the Biden Administration’s record in sponsoring public-private initiatives designed to grow the trucking industry’s workforce. “Investing in our workforce never stops. It’s a constant. Our industry needs an additional 80,000 commercial truck drivers if we’re to meet consumer demand. We welcome the support of all elected officials as we recruit and train more talent into this critical industry,” ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said in a release. “Recognizing our dedication to training and safety, the Departments of Labor and Transportation have worked quickly and efficiently in approving ATA as a registered apprenticeship sponsor. This long-sought designation provides our member companies valuable new tools and resources to help recruit and train the next generation of trucking talent.”
Whatever assessment of government initiatives proves to be correct, the White House itself agrees that the challenge is formidable. For example, the Administration today cited statistics showing that turnover in trucking routinely averages 90% for some carriers, largely due to tough working conditions such as drivers spending about 40% of their workday waiting to load and unload goods, logging hours that are typically unpaid. Even as these financial burdens cause many to leave the profession, the sector faces recruiting challenges for fresh drivers, shown by a median worker profile that is four years older than the nation’s overall workforce age and lopsided in gender with almost 90% of the industry being men, the White House said.
Investing in our workforce never stops. It’s a constant. Our industry needs an additional 80K drivers if we’re to meet consumer demand. We welcome the support of all elected officials as we recruit and train more talent into this critical industry.— American Trucking (@TRUCKINGdotORG) April 4, 2022
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(1/4) The #Teamsters Union is applauding the work of the Biden administration during the past 90 days in making substantial progress towards addressing critical issues for drivers and those interested in a career behind the wheel. @POTUS @USDOL @USDOT https://t.co/FdhcIPdaiC— Teamsters (@Teamsters) April 4, 2022