Driver Subcommittee points to pay, working conditions as ways to improve retention

July 30, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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It was the commercial drivers’ turn to weigh in on the driver retention issues in the trucking industry.

A panel of more than 20 commercial drivers, serving on a Driver Subcommittee to the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee, met on Wednesday, July 28 to discuss the issues of driver recruitment and retention. The topic has garnered a lot of attention recently as the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Labor hosted a driver retention roundtable discussion on July 9. In addition, MCSAC also spent much of its two days of meetings earlier this month on the issue.

The newly formed Drivers Subcommittee gave FMCSA the opportunity to hear about the problem firsthand. According to the agency, the new panel consists of 24 drivers from all sectors of the commercial motor vehicle industry, including tractor-trailer drivers, straight truck drivers, motor coach drivers, hazardous materials drivers, agriculture haulers, and more. OOIDA President Todd Spencer, who started his career as a truck driver and still holds a CDL, is the chairman of the Driver Subcommittee.

“The consensus of the group is that the economics for drivers certainly need to change to be more reflective of what people are looking for in a career,” Spencer said. “Not a lot of people are fired up about a 70-hour workweek that keeps you away from family all of the time.”

Improving pay and working conditions, including the respect shown toward drivers, were frequent suggestions from the panel.

“We had a pretty good cross-section of drivers who spoke about some pretty serious issues in trucking that most drivers deal with on a daily basis,” Spencer said. “That includes a lack of respect in pretty much every aspect of the job from who they work for and who they work with.”

An insufficient amount of truck parking and an inadequate driver training program also were mentioned as reasons the industry is having difficulties retaining drivers. According to the FMCSA, driver turnover rates at large fleets are more than 90%.

Comments from the Driver Subcommittee meeting will be included in MCSAC’s final report to be filed to the agency in September.

Driver retention

Although the American Trucking Associations has typically framed the problem as a “driver shortage,” the administration appears to be listening to OOIDA’s longtime stance that it is a driver retention issue.

OOIDA has refuted claims of a driver shortage for decades. Instead, the Association points to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that suggested any issues in the labor supply could be corrected by increasing wages.

At the driver retention roundtable, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg compared the problem to a leaky bucket, meaning that it doesn’t matter how many drivers you bring in if the reasons for them wanting to leave the industry aren’t corrected.

“It strikes me that another way to think of it is something of a leaky bucket, and that no matter how many people we pour into the industry for a moment, it’s not going to do us much good unless the jobs are reliable enough, secure enough and stable enough that people want to remain within the industry,” Buttigieg said.

Now that driver retention is being recognized as the problem, OOIDA said the administration needs to take steps to address the issue. The Association said a good first step would be to repeal the Fair Labor Standards Act overtime exemption for motor carriers so that drivers earn equitable wages for their time on the job. LL

WWWilliams

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.