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  • WAIT.USA
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  • ITVI.USA
    15,341.400
    78.550
    0.5%
  • OTRI.USA
    24.780
    0.360
    1.5%
  • OTVI.USA
    15,289.500
    66.220
    0.4%
  • TLT.USA
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  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
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  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
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News

Outpouring of appreciation for truckers during crisis may spur lasting change

Good feelings beget good behavior throughout the industry

The outpouring of appreciation for truck drivers during the coronavirus pandemic runs from President Donald Trump’s Twitter account to free roadside lunches and thank-you posters scrawled in crayon by young children.

The homage grows daily at the hashtag #thankatrucker on Facebook and Twitter.

The sentiment on a Flying J truck plaza billboard is a sign of the time as truckers are hailed as heroes for delivering consumer goods and medical supplies during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: FreightWaves/Jim Allen)

But will the good feelings remain or fade into memory when the health crisis passes?

“A lot will depend on how long this continues,” Rebecca Brewster, president of the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), told FreightWaves. “Those of us in the industry are so gratified to see young kids holding up signs thanking truck drivers. As we see more of that and it gets into our collective understanding, it will be cemented into our memories.”

Such adulation is rare during disasters like tornadoes or hurricanes, when grocery shelves empty but are quickly restocked because of the focus on a single town or region. Temporary disruptions are quickly forgotten, especially when property and other losses take priority.

“In my 19 years of driving, this is the first time I’ve seen such a positive light shown on the trucking industry,” said Jimmy Nevarez, owner of Angus Transportation, a three-truck carrier based in Phelan, California. “It is under the microscope right now because so many places are pumping up trucking as the lifeblood of the supply chain.”

One trucking executive questions whether the crisis will create a permanent change.

“I hope that drivers remember how important they are, but sadly I think the public will forget,” said Jeff Shefchik, president of Paper Transport Inc. (PTI) in De Pere, Wisconsin. “When life gets really hard, that’s when you see who is valuable.”

Time to shine

The American Trucking Associations’ mantra — “If you bought it, a truck brought it” — rings truer than ever.

“All these drivers are out there doing their job, keeping the country moving,” Shefchik said. “No matter how much of this country shuts down, they are never going to shut down.”

Nevarez said truckers need to recognize the public is seeing them in a different light.

“I emphasize to my friends that right now is the time to shine,” he said.

It is also the time for carriers to show drivers how important they are, said Tim Hindes, co-founder and CEO of Stay Metrics, a trucking consulting firm that tracks driver retention.

“This is when [truckers] and their families are watching the carriers,” Hindes said. “Are they giving them the protection equipment? Do they care about their well-being or are they just pushing them out there like cattle?

“Let your drivers know they are safe in your system and show them you’ve got their back,” he said. “That’s where I think there is a tremendous opportunity for carriers to position themselves as pro-driver.”

Hudson, Illinois-based Nussbaum Transportation Services Inc. allows drivers concerned about contracting the coronavirus to stay home. Only eight of 410 drivers are doing so, CEO Brent Nussbaum said.

“We should be proving ourselves all year long,” Nussbaum said in response to Hindes’ challenge. “We want to protect any drivers that have COVID-19. A few are quarantined because of symptoms. Our goal is to educate them about health and safety first.”

Shefchik said his drivers are provided with gloves, cleaning solutions, towels and whatever else the company can get to help with safe operation.

“In some cases, it is taking us longer than we would like,” he said.

Industry behaviors

Good will is welling up in many ways across the industry.

PTI is donating half its profits in April, a minimum of $100,000, to coronavirus-related causes. The company gives to charities every month, but “this is different,” Shefchik said.

Making his donation public challenges other local businesses. So far, he said, one is pledging $100,000.

“This was kind of an impulse thing,” Shefchik said. “[Our drivers] are grateful to still have a job and we want to do something.”

Nevarez said he sees less bad behavior within the industry.

“Freight rates are staying relatively stable and there’s not a lot of gouging going on,” he said. “Not only are we seeing the positive light from the general public that we’re servicing, but we’re seeing it from customers and brokerages. These guys aren’t jacking up the rates. They’re still making a profit, but they’re not sticking it to us.”

Opportunities abound

Only about 40% of the freight that typically criss-crosses the nation is moving, as stay-at-home orders and the shuttering of businesses deemed nonessential generate financial losses with each day of the pandemic.

When the economy recovers, some jobs in small businesses such as restaurants and coffee shops may not be part of it.

“One thing positive that people will remember is that there are a lot of [trucking] jobs out there,” Nussbaum said. “People are going to come away with a new perspective. We should send a message that this is a stable industry.”

The pandemic will accelerate driver retirements in a profession in which the average age is 55, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“There is a certain percentage of drivers we are going to lose in the industry because of this,” Hindes said. “It was time for people [to retire] and they are going to retire a little bit earlier.”

That means opportunities abound, the ATRI’s Brewster said.

“People who would not have considered [the trucking industry] would consider it,” she said. “Given all the attention the supply chain is getting, I hope it awakens in folks an understanding of how many opportunities there are within the industry, not just as drivers.”

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is a Detroit-based award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press and most recently as Detroit Bureau Chief for Trucks.com. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.

16 Comments

  1. When this thing is over a truck driver rep needs to be in each state and province. A number of receivers and shippers are going the second mile putting up temp bathrooms and spots to wash up. Some companies are treating their truck drivers (outside carriers) and own employees badly some meat processing plants. The government needs to come after this over fine those companies or shut them down. The way trucking companies handle this will determine whether we have to bring in cheaper offshore truck drivers. The insurance companies need a complete review so that companies can respond in a disaster .

  2. CRST is forcing team drivers who are without a co-driver to immediately take on another co-driver or be fired, pandemic or no pandemic.

  3. In 28 years of driving, I have seen quite a bit. I hope this new found love, of truck drivers, stays. However, I truly doubt it. To all my brothers, and sisters, I say thank you, and I respect the Hell out of you.

    1. 🚚🚛🚚 Truck drivers have always deserved the Respect & Praise. But to know it a time of crisis there is no hesitation is rewarding. There is rumor circulating that a lot of the business is stimulating from a little known secret that took place in Cleveland County NC in 2013 involving Towery “Tyree” M Burris-Hunt who many are claiming to be the wealthiest heir in America after receiving the largest Trust & inheritance in modern US history. He is reported to be the beneficiary grandson of Johnny Bryan Hunt founder of J.B.Hunt Transportation. The Trust involves everything under the 🌞.

      1. ⛔ Appreciation to all Truckers & company’s… Great Job keeping the shelves stocked…
        Especially when there is talk of so many company’s failing or force to merge…. Independent drivers are being forced to compete against one another. News from DHE Trans America of new orders. While everybody whispering about what’s going on at J.B. Hunt Transportation. To all Stay safe keep it moving

      2. Yeah they’re part of the reason this industry is so fk’d up! JB Hunt is everywhere and they have their hands in everything and they do it in bulk CHEAPLY! And they’re drivers suck! Buncha wild’azz mutha @#$&!

  4. My Dad drove long-haul; thanks to All you trucker out there working so hard still! – from current working cashier & previous shipping clerk. Take care & God bless all of you!

  5. The citizens outpours of appreciation is wonderful but the industry is still sucking the life out of trucking being that it’s basically a requirement for trucks to keep moving. The rates should be up instead they went down. Best believe with all of the panic buying the rate increases should not be passed to the consumer. But instead all the profit is split between the shippers and the brokers working from home
    While we go city to city plant to plant raising our risk of exposure. It’s not going to get better until we get proper representation.

  6. Avatar Noble1 suggests SMART truck drivers should UNITE & collectively cut out the middlemen from picking truck driver pockets ! UNITE , CONQUER , & PROSPER ! IMHO says:

    What you drivers fail to recognize is this COVID-19 pandemic is YOUR BLESSING IN DISGUISE !

    You’re in the spot light ! You have the public’s support and recognition !
    Though you fail to use this incredible opportunity to UNITE and take this industry back by storm !

    This is your moment ! Don’t let it fade and pass you by ! This is the opportunity of a lifetime !

    I’ve been advocating for truck drivers to UNITE for well over a year now ! What have you done so far ??? NOTHING to help yourselves on a grand scale that would go down in the history books !

    Don’t expect a hand out , USE THIS MOMENT to reignite that brotherhood among yourselves during this pandemic hardship affecting the world while you’re in the spotlight catering to the “worlds” needs !

    USE YOUR BRAINS & UNITE ! The money will come .

    In my humble opinion …………….

  7. Appreciation to all Truckers …. For keeping the shelves stocked!!
    Can someone write a story of what’s taking place at J.B Hunt Transportation. Will this COVID -19 effect jobs at the Charlotte or Concord NC location. Is there plans for Cleveland County NC

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