The Biden administration emphasized progress on several recent initiatives aimed at getting more people into trucking jobs but the potential for a freight recession threatens to undermine some of that progress, at least in the short term.
A fact sheet released by the White House on Monday pointed to major changes in the trucking industry over the past year, including record job numbers.
“Since President Biden took office, we have seen historic increases in trucking employment with 2021 registering as the best year for trucking employment growth since 1994 and December 2021-February 2022 as the best three-month stretch for long-distance truck hiring since the 1990s,” it stated. “And frontline truckers’ real wages grew this year despite elevated inflation.”
Biden acknowledged that drivers are still facing challenges, however.
During remarks on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday to update the status of the administration’s Trucking Action Plan, he pointed out that the average truck driver waits – often without pay – four and a half hours for their truck to be loaded and unloaded during an 11-hour shift. He also said average truck driver pay has fallen to $25/hour, down from $34/hour in 1978 (adjusting for inflation).
However, “we’re building a better economy around American manufacturing and American supply chains,” he said. “Thanks to the infrastructure law, we’re making the largest investment in roads and bridges since creation of the Interstate Highway system. That means a bright future for American trucking.”
The White House highlighted improvements made by the U.S. Department of Transportation to cut red tape and speed up the ability of states to issue new CDLs, which more than doubled between January and February 2022 compared with January and February 2021.
It also noted progress made through a recruitment initiative by DOT and the Department of Labor, a 90-day Apprenticeship Trucking Challenge announced in December, and supported by $8 million in funding from DOL.
More than 100 employers across trucking, food and grocery, and the oil and gas industries launched apprenticeship programs with DOL in 90 days, according to the White House, including Domino’s [NYSE: DPZ], Frito-Lay, UPS [NYSE: UPS] and national partners such as Fastport and the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters.
“This proven earn-and-learn model of workforce training will help employers and labor develop and retain a skilled workforce,” the White House stated. “Apprentices are already hitting the road with NFI and Total Transportation each hiring over 50 apprentices after launching new programs under the Apprenticeship Challenge. With these 100 employers and seven trade associations [including the American Trucking Associations] now offering apprenticeships, we have nearly doubled the number of programs nationwide.”
While these and Biden administration initiatives could prove valuable in retaining drivers in the long term, short-term hiring could stall if signs of a freight recession continue to build.
And because new trucking registrations tend to lag market conditions, new fleets will likely continue to enter the market even after the economy softens, which could make the downturn worse.
An official with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration noted in March that new carriers added to FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System between April 2018 and December 2021 jumped about 112% as new drivers responded to the surge in demand to move freight during the pandemic. The majority of those new entrants were carriers with just one power unit, so a downturn could shake out new entrants from the industry as fast as they were added.
The White House emphasized other progress it has made to add and retain drivers in trucking, including:
- Truck parking: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) provides funding in at least five programs that states can use to address truck parking while requiring states to include an analysis of truck parking needs in their state freight plans, laying the foundation to understand local needs.
- Ensuring a safe and inclusive industry for women: Expanding opportunities for women in trucking, including by creating safe and inclusive work environments.
- Strengthening workplace safety/worker’s rights: DOL and DOT are conducting joint outreach and education to employers and drivers about workplace rights and responsibilities under federal wage and hour law. The administration is committed to addressing core challenges, such as worker misclassification, while expanding high-road employer practices to build a next-generation trucking workforce.
- Connecting veterans to trucking careers: The trucking industry partnered with leading veterans service organizations to launch a task force, chaired by former Congressman and veteran Patrick Murphy, to support the recruitment and retention of veterans and military family members.
- Truck leasing: A Truck Leasing Task Force has been stood up by DOT, DOL and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to address predatory truck leasing arrangements and identify actions that could make leases more equitable and transparent. The task force will review and report on common leasing arrangements, arrangements that result in outsize and unanticipated debt for incoming drivers, and more.
- Detention time and compensation studies: An upcoming DOT study will look at unpaid loading and unloading time for drivers and its impact on safety and compensation. This study will provide a detailed understanding of wait time’s effects on drivers across jurisdictions and industry sectors.
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