Increases to driver pay drive inflation, ATA says

August 20, 2021

John Bendel

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Increases in driver pay are driving up prices. “That’s something we’ll all notice,” an ATA economist told Fox Business.

No, we won’t.

The slow, incremental pay increases feebly pulsing through the industry will have an impact, of course. A cost increase of any kind has an impact, but an impact “we’ll all notice?”

Baloney.

The inflation we’re experiencing is about the trillions of dollars pumped into the economy to fight 2020’s COVID slump. That massive infusion of money created unprecedented demand, which drives shortages that push prices up. In the real world – not the one invented and promoted by the ATA – driver pay increases do not have a major impact. But the charge that they do has propaganda value for the ATA.

The two top stories in the ATA’s daily news roundup Thursday were about how driver pay increases are driving price increases.

It seems the same ATA that perpetuates the driver shortage fraud is also opposed to the only sure thing to get more drivers behind the wheel – higher pay.

Is the ATA trying to scare consumers? You bet. More to the point, they’re trying to scare legislators into what ATA and the giant carriers who run it want – to increase the pool of potential drivers. It’s that already-enormous pool and the hundreds of thousands of people hired (and who leave) every year, that keeps filling truck seats thus holding down pay rates.

Big carriers and the ATA aren’t the only ones trying to keep driver pay down. The Advisory Committee on Supply Chain Competitiveness made news at a meeting on August 11 when they voted to urge U.S. government action on the truck driver shortage. Action was urgent, they said. The ACSCC wants to increase driver training and apprenticeship programs to bring more newbies into the pool. They want tax dollars to fight a fraudulent shortage.

The ACSCC is a 45-member committee that advises the Secretary of Commerce on national freight policy, according to its website. Who are the 45 advisors?

Seventeen are supply chain associations of one sort or another, including the ATA. At least five are big shippers, among them Amazon, and seven are transportation consultants, some with shipper clients. At least four are logistics companies like the giant C.H. Robinson. All have an interest in keeping transportation costs down – often driver wages in particular.

Unfortunately, legislators are buying the ATA’s message: a driver shortage is about to bring the economy to its knees.

Catastrophe is imminent. Never mind that it’s been imminent for 30 years, the ATA message comes at them from all directions. There’s the ATA’s D.C. lobby operation, of course, and there’s also an energetic public relations campaign that appeals to lazy local (and a few national) journalists who take the ATA at its word. It makes an easy story. Don’t look beyond the ATA press release. Just quote it. Those local stories resonate with the constituents back home.

Since May, when the ATA president appeared on Fox to talk about the shortage, media all over the country, local TV news in particular, have done stories on the “shortage” and how it’s to blame for everything from high prices to last-year’s toilet paper shortage. Virtually all the reports featured the ATA’s standard warning: the industry is short 60,000 drivers now and will be short a gazillion in a few short years.

Some reporters have no idea about truckload turnover of 90%. They don’t know that big truckload carriers shed 90% of their drivers every year. Or maybe they just don’t understand what that means. All those drivers do not turn in their CDLs on the way out the door. They remain eligible drivers in their hundreds of thousands. They may have left for all kinds of reasons beyond pay. But none of those reasons would matter if the job paid enough. You’d be amazed what people will tolerate to earn a decent living.

Or maybe you wouldn’t. LL

WW Williams

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.