In an industry already squeezed between labor shortages and interruptions to established best practices, America’s trucking organizations are warning the Biden Administration not to make things worse with a capricious, illogical vaccine mandate.
“With one of the most mobile workforces in the nation, the logistical challenge of vaccinating 3.6 million truck drivers as they move cross country is nearly impossible as drivers may not return to their base of operations for several days or even weeks at a time,” wrote John Lyboldt, president of the Truckload Carriers Association, in a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation. “This natural lack of consistency regarding the individual schedules of drivers presents an even larger challenge when considering the weekly testing provision of the forthcoming mandate. Adding to this is the exorbitant cost of implementing a weekly testing regime for our mobile workforce and the added burden on our nation’s laboratories, which the industry is already heavily relying upon to detect drug and alcohol users in compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s [FMCSA] Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.”
Lyboldt also expressed concern that the mandate could prompt qualified drivers to flee the industry, as it has done to other labor forces, such as municipal workers in cities nationwide, where similar mandates have been applied. “TCA believes the ramifications of the vaccine mandate on the trucking industry would decimate the current driver pool, creating unacceptably long wait times for freight deliveries across the nation … Finding qualified drivers to haul the nation’s freight safely and efficiently is already a challenge within the industry, a challenge which will only be exacerbated under a massive driver exodus.”
In response to concerned freight organizations, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh clarified that the new rule exempts truck drivers. “If you’re a truck driver and you’re outside, you’re in a cab driving by yourself, this doesn’t impact you. If you’re a worker outside working in the area, this doesn’t impact you,” he told Philadelphia television station WPVI.
But trucking organizations weren’t so easily mollified.
“While we complete our due diligence to confirm that fact through official channels, we see quotes from Labor Secretary Walsh as an enormous victory for our association and industry,” said Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations. “Given the nationwide shortage of truck drivers, it is vital that our industry has the relief it needs to keep critical goods moving, including food, fuel, medicine and the vaccine itself.”
However, “We continue to believe OSHA is using extraordinary authority unwisely, applying it across all industries at an arbitrary threshold of 100 employees that fails to factor in actual risks,” Spear went on to say. “We are weighing all options of recourse to ensure every segment of our industry’s workforce is shielded from the unintended consequences of this misguided mandate.” This is an important point because drivers aren’t the only employees in the overland freight moving industry.
“Trucking … plays a crucial role in the U.S. economy,” Lybolt warned in his letter. “In 2019 the trucking industry hauled 72.5% of all freight transported in the United States, equating to a staggering 11.8 billion tons. Internationally, trucks transport 68% of goods between the U.S. and Canada. More freight is hauled across country by truck than through any other means, making trucking the backbone on which the U.S. economy relies to move its supply of goods.”
Clearly, it would be very poorly advised to monkey with America’s truckers. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past eight-and-a-half months, it’s that we can’t overestimate the Biden administration’s ability to mess things up.