How to speed up the supply chain? Louisiana and Georgia stick it to drivers

May 3, 2022

John Bendel

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Sometimes a driver shortage comes in handy, even when it doesn’t exist.

Carriers and shippers in Louisiana and Georgia managed to convince state lawmakers that the Great Driver Shortage is as ominous as the Great Depression and as desperate as the Great Escape. If the states don’t act quickly, they implied, the supply chain crisis will leave their populations foraging in the woods for berries, nuts, and toilet paper.

Louisiana lawmakers probably thought the industry needed taller drivers and that the “supply chain” was Office Depot. But they learned fast.

In the Pelican State, elected officials had seen the November state trucking association news release with the headline: “Driver shortage is the top concern for Louisiana and nation’s trucking industry.” They also saw the ATA president on TV a few times when he said trucking was short 80,000 drivers and headed for a cliff. That’s all they needed to know.

There are no real cliffs in Louisiana, but just in case there was a secret one somewhere in the bayou, they weren’t going over it. No way.

In April, the Louisiana State Senate decided to fight the driver shortage with a buy-one, get-one-free sale for carriers and shippers.

The senators want to allow carriers to pull doubles from the state’s ports. They know their math. If each driver pulls two loads instead of one, you don’t need as many drivers, right?

Of course, you would need even fewer drivers if they allowed triples or quadruples, but the senators were being careful. There are limits, after all. The doubles could only be those little 20-foot intermodal containers. You know, the cute ones. Not the great big ones.

That’s probably why they raised the weight limit from 37,000 pounds per axle to 40,000. More efficient use of those little boxes, you see. But they’re limiting the overall weight to 135,000 pounds – to go easy on the highways and bridges.

Even so, the Louisiana Department of Transportation complained. But what do they know? This crisis isn’t about transportation! It’s about the supply chain!

On April 20, the Senate passed the bill unanimously. Not a single no vote. If that doesn’t make you scared of the Louisiana Senate, you’re not paying attention. The bill is now in the state Assembly.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, carriers and shippers didn’t need to frighten the state’s 226 legislators. They only had to freak out the governor.

On April 14, the Georgia governor declared a supply chain emergency and signed an executive order. This guy knows how to keep the freight moving. He simply threw out the federal hours-of-service rules. Who needs more drivers when the ones you already have can work around the clock? It’s easier on Georgia’s roads than doubles, triples, and extra-heavy axles.

Don’t worry. The governor doesn’t want any sleepy-heads behind the wheel. That would be dangerous. So, the executive order says “A driver who notifies a motor vehicle carrier that he or she needs immediate rest will be given at least 10 consecutive hours off-duty before being required to return to service.”

That seems to mean that if you admit you need a half-hour nap, you get at least 10 consecutive hours to sleep your head off. And maybe miss your delivery appointment. And maybe lose a day’s work. Or maybe die of boredom counting the cars on the 285 for nine-an-a-half of those hours.

Or maybe it means something else. Only the governor knows for sure.

Louisiana and Georgia have different approaches to the supply chain crisis, sure. But those approaches have a distinguishing similarity. Both deal with the alleged driver shortage by exploiting the drivers still on the job.

Neither state seems to – or chooses not to – recognize the reason so many qualified people with CDLs won’t work as drivers. In most instances, the job simply doesn’t pay enough to make it worthwhile.

But would a governor or state legislature force carriers to raise pay to attract more drivers?

Don’t even think it. You’d hear all kinds of reasons why that was impossible, why it simply could not be done. Why the law wouldn’t allow it.

But it’s OK to change the rules so driver safety is compromised – as would be the case with inexperienced drivers and Louisiana doubles – or by allowing drivers to be further exploited by carriers. That’s the gist of the Georgia governor’s executive order suspending HOS rules.

In both instances, carriers make more money. Drivers make the sacrifice. LL

More opinion columns are available on Land Line Media.

 

John Bendel is Land Line’s contributing editor-at-large. A former trucker, former editor at National Lampoon and two trucking magazines, John is an author, photographer, and freelancer. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and many U.S. newspapers.