Without knowing it, ATA president pinpoints the problem with driver pay

May 2019

Mark Schremmer

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Providing testimony to the House Ways and Means committee in March, American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear delivered some fiery words in an attempt to illustrate the problems caused by the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Spear used traffic congestion statistics to inform Congress about the trucking industry’s lost hours of productivity. He even tried to blame infrastructure for ATA’s purported “driver shortage.”

Little did he know, however, Spear actually hit the bull’s-eye on what’s wrong with the current driver-pay model.

He also provided evidence that ATA has no genuine interest in doing what it would take to retain experienced drivers.

Spear cited a recent study that said traffic congestion in such cities as Boston and Washington, D.C., cost drivers more than 150 hours each year. He also claimed that the trucking industry has a shortage of 50,000 drivers.

Then Spear needed only a couple of sentences to summarize how truckers aren’t compensated fairly.

“If I’m (a truck driver) sitting in traffic, I’ve got to be sitting there thinking I could be doing something much better with my life,” he said. “I get paid by the mile, and I’m not moving.”

I couldn’t agree with him more. However, I don’t believe Mr. Spear realizes what he said. Infrastructure problems aside, why would anyone want to work for free? If you really want to retain quality drivers and end this so-called driver shortage, wouldn’t you start by compensating those drivers fairly?

And paying drivers only when the wheels are turning is anything but fair. Whether it is because of traffic, weather or being held up by a shipper or receiver, truck drivers routinely donate hours of their life back to trucking companies because most of them are paid by the mile.

If we want to fix the problems in the trucking industry, we must start by valuing all of a truck driver’s time. Whether he knows it or not, Spear perfectly illustrated why that is the case.

Zig Ziglar famously said that “the first step in solving a problem is to recognize that it does exist.”

Spear’s words identify the problem. So where do we go from here?

Your move, ATA. LL

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.