As the number of coronavirus patients continued to skyrocket throughout March, so did drivers’ concerns over their motor carriers’ sanitary practices and drivers’ need for more personal protective equipment, planning and hazard pay as they risked exposure to the virus while delivering essential medical and food supplies across the country.
The analysis conducted by WorkHound, a driver feedback platform, noted a trend as drivers’ concerns about COVID-19 “escalated throughout the month” as more Americans were diagnosed with the highly contagious virus.
“Prior to the pandemic, our focus was on driver retention, but we noticed that drivers’ concerns about their health and safety really ramped up in March,” Paul Castronova, strategic projects manager of WorkHound, told FreightWaves.
He said WorkHound’s communications platform currently works with 55 motor carriers by prompting their drivers weekly to communicate any concerns in an effort to curb high turnover in the industry.
Of the 3,435 comments that WorkHound received from drivers in March, 14% referenced concerns about their carriers’ guidance or protocols regarding COVID-19.
“The real value of WorkHound is we allow drivers to communicate freely without the fear of any sort of retaliation or negative consequences to speaking their mind,” Castronova told FreightWaves.
Overall, 27% of drivers expressed concern about sanitation practices and wanted to know that their companies were taking “extra precautions to ensure that their equipment is safe and sanitized.” Some expected their companies to provide them with basic necessities and asked for personal protective equipment, including masks, hand sanitizer and gloves, he said.
“One of the things drivers were seeing was there weren’t enough precautions being taken at terminals, and in some situations, there wasn’t hand sanitizer or soap available for them to use,” Castronova said.
Sanitary conditions at truck stops were also a concern, he said, as some drivers recommended particular truck stops that were doing a “better job of keeping the facilities clean.”
Other comments were about not having to go inside a truck stop and retrieve paper receipts in an effort to limit person-to-person interaction.
Message from drivers to carriers: “‘Wash your hands’ does not constitute a plan”
A recent WorkHound analysis found that approximately 21% of drivers in March expressed planning concerns about their health should they contract COVID-19 on the road. Drivers also noted that a “wash your hands” reminder from carriers “does not constitute a plan.”
Questions about drivers’ ability to refuse loads destined for COVID-19 hot spots and how to avoid getting stuck at a shipper or receiver when loads are disrupted were the concerns they had for their carriers.
Food insecurity was also a big concern among drivers as truck stops closed inside dining and states issued “stay-home” orders that closed inside dining at other restaurants in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Even if facilities offered a drive-thru option, some drivers couldn’t fit their tractor-trailers in the parking lots.
“Drivers had a hard time finding an open restaurant or even finding groceries to store in their trucks because of some of the panic-buying that occurred in the early parts of the month,” Castronova told FreightWaves.
Some carriers are sending out healthy recipe ideas and meal-planning suggestions to drivers, he said.
Hazard pay for traveling to COVID-19 hot spots
As truck drivers were dispatched to deliver goods in COVID-19 hot spots, 21% of comments on WorkHound’s driver feedback platform centered around hazard pay.
Drivers, who don’t have the option to self-isolate in their homes and must interact with the public as part of their jobs daily, commented that they deserve additional or hazard pay because they are risking their own health to ensure essential goods are delivered across the nation.
“There was a steady increase in comments concerning pay from the beginning of the month until the end of March,” Castronova said. “Drivers understand there is an increased risk that comes with operating within a pandemic and they believe it warrants further compensation.”
While some companies are implementing incentives, some may not be in a financial position to do so.
“It’s important for carriers to provide some context to drivers about where the company is and why they may not be able to meet additional pay requests at this time, but communicate that drivers are valued and respected,” Castronova said.
Driver risks associated with COVID-19
Drivers are highly aware of the risks associated with COVID-19 as the industry works around the clock to ensure essential goods are delivered.
Many truck drivers are in high-risk categories identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for contracting the coronavirus, including those with asthma, heart conditions and diabetes.
“Zero plan for this pandemic,” one driver commented via the WorkHound driver platform. “Our workforce is among the most vulnerable.”
Proactive communication with drivers is key to prevent misunderstandings, Castronova said.
Some trucking companies added Plexiglas as a barrier between support staff and drivers at terminals in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but in some cases, Castronova said it wasn’t communicated properly to drivers beforehand.
“Some felt like they were being treated as a lower priority or there was a class distinction between them and support staff,” he said. “But we found that among carriers that were proactive in communicating these moves and plans before implementing them found drivers were more receptive because they understood their safety was being considered as well.”
Morale — Many drivers “feel a sense of duty” to their country to keep their trucks moving
Twelve percent of driver comments addressed morale while trucking during the coronavirus pandemic.
Castronova said many comments expressed “optimism” despite the dire circumstances.
“Despite how alienating it can be sometimes, drivers feel a sense of duty to their country to keep their trucks moving and are providing relief, which is pretty impressive,” he said. “They choose to focus on the positive of what they are doing.”
Some drivers who expressed negative comments stated they didn’t “feel welcome at their home terminal” or that doors were locked and companies “treat the drivers so disrespectfully like we are lepers.”
Again, Castronova said it’s important for carriers to explain protective measures for both the drivers and company employees. His analysis expressed the importance of communicating “a sense of unity and empathy for those who remain on the front lines.”
Fears about missing a paycheck
Approximately 12% of drivers commenting on work issues say they are thankful to have jobs but also expressed fear about low freight rates and potentially missing a paycheck if economic conditions don’t improve.
“Drivers are working even though there is an increased risk for them right now, and many have a family back home that’s counting on them for their paychecks,” Castronova said. “However, many want reassurance that they will have a job in the future.”
Access to the necessities
The inability to find food as truck stop restaurants are closed and difficulty accessing safe drinking water or other basic necessities are among the concerns drivers expressed through WorkHound’s driver feedback platform.
“Some proactive carriers are equipping their terminals with meals or packing lunches for drivers to take on the road,” Castronova said. “Some are mapping out areas where drivers can get food on their routes.”
Benefits is a “complex issue”
As drivers risk exposure to the coronavirus and must deal with the public daily, around 6% of the comments WorkHound received asked about trucking companies’ benefits.
Castronova said it’s important for carriers to communicate benefits with drivers.
“We received comments from drivers about carriers increasing benefits like sick time or paid time off because of the higher risks they are taking and the value they are providing their company,” he said.
“The benefits issue is really complex, but it’s important to address these issues with drivers, who are concerned about getting sick but can’t self-quarantine,” he said.
Denial about COVID-19 health dangers
A small percentage — just 3% — of drivers commented to WorkHound in March that the media has blown the global pandemic “way out of proportion” and deny the virus is a “serious threat.”
“Some thought the virus is political in nature, but that was when COVID-19 cases were lower at the beginning of the month compared with where they are now, so I think denial is going away as the number of cases increases,” Castronova said.