Man, I get tired of the press’ indictment of the large trucking companies and the associations that support trucking as sponsoring “sweatshops on wheels!” Read the NPR Planet Money article, Is There Really A Truck Driver Shortage?, and then let me set the record straight. As reported in the NPR article, Steve Viscelli, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies the trucking industry, says:
“Through political lobbying, legal activism and harsh business practices, big trucking companies have made a difficult job even harder, especially for entry-level truckers.” He says the companies have been “systematically degrading trucker working conditions.” Scholars have referred to trucks as sweatshops on wheels.” Viscelli says the industry is rife with minimum wage violations and what he calls “debt peonage.” Basically, new drivers become indentured servants, going deep into debt to get training and to lease trucks from their employers.”
I strongly believe that data eliminates emotion. So here are the facts from over 100 truckload carriers we track and consult with through the TCA’s Truckload Profitability Program, which is basically a program that collaborates with industry leaders to help keep our over the road supply chain vibrant and serviced.
First, point, the industry depends on and cares for its drivers at every turn. If these were “sweatshops on wheels,” the grocery shelves of this country would be empty. These carriers traditionally have allocated 25% of their top line revenue toward driver wages, much higher than comparable transportation industry modes like rail. Today, with the aggravated labor market due to government interference, that portion of revenue has risen to 35%. In short, our rates in a scarce commodity environment are not keeping up with the escalated wages for drivers. In addition, many of our fleets are now training people off the street to drive. That cost has skyrocketed in the near term to an excess of $10,000 per student. The carrier charges the student nothing for this training in most cases. In addition to the high cost of recruiting and training, the trucking industry is hard. The industry requires 24 hour, 365 days of service to meet the demands of the shipping community. All workers today shy away from such a commitment, and you are away from home a lot. The driving professional is a very highly regarded worker, as identified during the most recent pandemic.
The constant indictment from uniformed press about independent contractors’ “indentured servitude” is significantly overblown. The unique instances where a rogue carrier is taking advantage of a driver are certainly out there, and those carriers need to be identified and weeded out of the industry. But those carriers also compete for drivers against the carriers I represent that do things right. The good actors take all creeds and colors off the street and will train them to become safe and professional commercial vehicle operators at no cost for the would-be entrant. They supply them with a guaranteed job inside of their fleet, and a personal trainer to aid in their success. And if the driver so chooses, they can start their own business with financing, training, and jobs inside their fleet, much like a franchise relationship with no need for personal investment or a strong balance sheet.
In short, there will remain a driver shortage because it is a hard job that serves a business that remains open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year! The current compensation for driver’s weekly is between $1,300 -$1,500 per week and their average hour worked during that week as reported by Workhound was 41.2 hours. Yes, the industry still pays by the mile, but that cost is only a portion of the driver’s overall compensation. The mileage pay is standard because the shipping community requested their bids and contracts by the mile.
In closing, the attacks on large trucking companies as “sweatshops on wheels” is not only wrong and inflammatory, the data also doesn’t support it. The data supports the argument that the industry is training for free, financing without regard to credit worthiness, and paying its drivers over $30/hour when you consider complete compensation. That is where data eliminates emotion!