Drivers need to get paid twice as much, says OOIDA president Todd Spencer

 ( Photo: Shutterstock )
( Photo: Shutterstock )

FreightWaves recently ran a story about ATA senior vice president Bob Costello speaking on the shortage of truck drivers and how the industry would grapple with a reality that looks increasingly grim every year. He had refuted the claim of the Department of Labor that lists the number of trucking-centric drivers to be 864,000 but rather estimated it to be around 500,000. And since the industry ran with an estimated 50,000 drivers short last year, Costello believes the situation is more ominous than it looks.

Todd Spencer, the president of OOIDA, mirrored the views of Costello and extended his reasons for the shortage while talking on a Fox Business segment yesterday. “Pay for truck drivers has been falling for three decades, while the demand and the responsibility to the job are going exactly the opposite,” he said. “It will always be difficult to find people to do jobs that are hard, that doesn’t really pay much.”

Driver pay has indeed been slumping for three decades. The average trucker wage was $38,618 annually in 1980 and if it is adjusted to the present, would be over $111,000 a year. But as Spencer points out, the average wage today as estimated by the Department of Labor is a paltry $41,000, which is nearly a third of what a trucker needs to draw, considering the inflation over the years.

The buck does not stop here. Drivers in the trucking industry are among the hardest toiling working class, with weeks that range between 70 to 80 hours on the road. Spencer believes that “the trend hasn’t really changed,” and for a job that pays less while demanding incredibly long work weeks, it does not come as a surprise that drivers are hard to come by.

“Much of the time is spent on the road away from families, gone for weeks at a time, and sometimes even months,” said Spencer. “Those are the kind of jobs that people will look to replace and again, that is what has been going on.”

All the adversity is taking a toll on the drivers, as the trucking industry has one of the worst turnovers in the U.S., with a 100% turnover being the norm with large publicly traded companies. “There are plenty of people that enter truck driving every year. The state issues over 400,000 new commercial driver licenses, the vast majority are for truck drivers every year,” said Spencer. “These drivers go to work for companies, generally the large publicly traded companies, and they get burned out, sometimes in as few as six months but almost all of them within a year.”

The industry is finding it hard to woo millennials, as for starters, it is not a job that pays well nor is it the easy life, and second, unemployment is at a record low in the U.S. right now. For example, drivers are moving out to work in factories or construction sites as those jobs pay them more than what they earn in the trucking industry, and would also let them get home every night. “Comparing pay with the consumer price index, drivers would need to be making twice of what they are getting paid right now,” said Spencer.

One of the primary reasons for the debacle lies in the deregulation of the trucking industry in 1980, Spencer said. The companies grew rapidly and buoyed by their shareholders who pushed the management for greater productivity, they consciously started fleecing of the lowest denominator in the ecosystem – the truck drivers.

“Ironically, trucking is an industry that is 90% small business, but it is the big guys that create the economic conditions. And they are also the ones that lobby for more and more regulations that drivers generally hate,” said Spencer.

But when questioned if autonomous trucks are the answer to this problem, Spencer categorically refused such a solution. “It is one thing if you are talking about a Google car that weighs 2,000 pounds, but when you are talking about a large truck that weighs 40 tons, it is a different animal,” he said.

Spencer went on to defend the complexity that the driving job entails, citing the drivers who operate in the worst of weather conditions – like snow, floods, and hurricanes. He concluded by saying that drivers are the ones who step up in the event of a calamity, by bringing in relief supplies and will always be the trucking industry’s mainstay. As things stand right now, there is an urgent need for the industry to address the pay scale issues of its drivers.

Stay up-to-date with the latest commentary and insights on FreightTech and the impact to the markets by subscribing.

Show More

Vishnu Rajamanickam, Staff Writer

Vishnu writes editorial commentary on cutting-edge technology within the freight industry, profiles startups, and brings in perspective from industry frontrunners and thought leaders in the freight space. In his spare time, he writes neo-noir poetry, blogs about travel & living, and loves to debate about international politics. He hopes to settle down in a village and grow his own food at some point in time. But for now, he is happy to live with his wife in the middle of a German metropolitan.

One Comment

  1. The saddest part is…not a damn thing will be done about it. Everything he said in the article is true….and I absolutely wish I’d NEVER sat down in a big rig….I tell everyone….dont do it, don’t do it, don’t fu**ing do it!

  2. I started my trucking career in 1980 and was so happy and proud to be a truck driver,good living complete freedom but sadly each year that went by it just kept getting more difficult to keep pace financially, watching your friends get yearly raises and not happening for a driver.Well I made it 37 years and with a worn out body retired in Jan 2017 and can honestly say I haven’t felt this good physically for many years. Would I do it over again NO WAY!!!

  3. I agree I have been in the trucking industrie for 29 years and back in 1990 I made more then then I do now….we are very under paid. Our job is very demanding and stressful with all the new regulations and eld. It makes it harder and harder too do our job….I personally am fed up and tired of it all… I wanna get out of trucking as soon as possible….i can stay home and work 2 regular jobs an make tge same money and be home….

  4. I totally agree with the article. As a heavy haul driver I am fortunate to make a little more than the average driver but with larger companies coming in and underbidding everyone, it is getting harder and harder to find decent paying loads. I’ve been in this business for 21 years and am personally just waiting for retirement. God help this country when all the guys that actually loved trucking gets out.

    Kevin Bond

  5. My understanding, with new tax structure, federal, per-diem pay allowance has gone away for OTR drivers. This may make the sell for OTR even tougher.

  6. Adjusted for inflation I made $54,000 in 1993 as a newbie Werner driver. That was a bottom feeder job 25 years ago. OOIDA has done a great job for drivers. J.J. should have a giant statue built to honor his work. Oops I mean James Hoffa not J.J.

  7. Half the drivers brought into the workforce are poorly trained, and lied to about the job companies wanna give them.
    Think quality of driver created by better training and the quantity of drivers will increase due to a lower turnover rate.
    Pushing drivers thru trucking school and having someone that’s only been driving 6 months or a year, train them, only puts a body in a truck, doesn’t create a professional driver.
    Having minimum training requirements for drivers that teach is a start.
    Oh, and as long as a new driver will take a job paying .27/ mike, companies that pull that crap will stay in business.

  8. There’s no driver shortage. The only reason why the industry keeps trying to shove this claim down our throats is so they can keep pumping poorly trained steering wheel holders out to keep freight rates and driver wages down.