Large carriers attempt to import truck drivers
August 6, 2021
Large motor carriers, especially the mega carriers, will stop at nothing to avoid raising wages to solve their retention problem. Their latest attempt is to import truck drivers from foreign countries.
Recently, some news articles about carriers hiring truck drivers from abroad have been making the rounds. Bloomberg is reporting that Enid, Okla.-based Groendyke Transport is looking in South Africa for new drivers.
Of course, this is nothing new, both generally speaking and specifically about this particular tactic.
History of importing truck drivers
Groendyke’s, and likely other carriers, move to hire drivers out of South Africa is just the latest in the saga of recruiting truck drivers from overseas. This strategy has been happening since at least the 1990s.
Back in 1995, Land Line Contributing Editor at Large John Bendel wrote about a similar situation. At that time, M.S. Carriers of Memphis, Tenn., attempted to hire 200 British truck drivers. M.S. Carriers was the 10th largest truckload carrier and the 43rd largest trucking company in the country, Bendel reported. However, the Department of Labor denied the carrier’s request to certify a shortage of drivers, which would allow it to hire truck drivers from abroad, at least temporarily.
M.S Carriers was not alone. Schneider wanted to hire drivers in Ireland, and J.B. Hunt was head-hunting in Australia. The Interstate Truckload Carriers Conference lobbied to get the Department of Labor to change rules that will make it easier for its members to import truck drivers. Fortunately, those efforts failed.
Just a few years later, Hogan Transports thought it would have better luck. In 1999, the St. Louis-based company announced it wanted to hire up to 100 drivers from Barbados, an island in the Caribbean. Initially, Hogan Transports succeeded. The Department of Labor approved the request to hire truck drivers from abroad. However, that was quickly reversed.
Importing truck drivers is not the solution
Fast forward more than two decades later, and here we are again with the exact same plea with the exact same arguments for it. Again, arguments against such approval are also the same.
Just like the large carriers did in the ’90s, they are claiming a driver shortage is forcing them to import truck drivers. They argue that not enough Americans want to drive a truck. That part may be true, but the logic in dealing with that is flawed.
In order for any industry to hire a significant number of foreign workers, the Department of Labor must add it to the list of industries that can bypass certain immigration processes.
Essentially, the Labor Department must find strong evidence that there is a severe shortage of workers in that industry and all potential domestic remedies have been exhausted. Not only has the Labor Department not found a shortage in the trucking industry, but it has explicitly stated that a shortage does not exist.
In March 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics published a report called “Is the U.S. Labor Market for Truck Drivers Broken?” The short answer was “no.” A more nuanced explanation was that evidence does not support the theory of a labor shortage within the trucking industry and that increasing wages could alleviate any issues with recruitment and retention.
“As a whole, the market for truck drivers appears to work as well as any other blue-collar labor market, and, while it tends to be ‘tight,’ it imposes no constraints on entry into (or exit from) the occupation,” the report stated. “There is thus no reason to think that, given sufficient time, driver supply should fail to respond to price signals in the standard way.”
Despite that report, large carriers and the American Trucking Association have doubled down on the driver shortage narrative. Why? Because the alternative is to pay drivers more, which hurts their bottom line.
Wages, teens and South African drivers
In addition to importing truck drivers, large carriers also want to lower the minimum age to drive interstate from 21 to 18. Not only does a wealth of research suggest this could be extremely dangerous, but the move is not garnering much public support either. Regardless, large carriers know they can pay young drivers less.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for heavy/tractor-trailer truck drivers is $47,130 or $22.66 an hour – and take note the bureau is assuming a 40-hour workweek, which few truckers actually work. Anyone who has been a trucker for more than a year, possibly less, will tell you that is not nearly enough when you factor in time away from family, burdensome regulations, the struggles of road life, etc.
Median monthly wage for truck drivers in South Africa is about $700, according to SalaryExplorer.com. Those with 20 or more years of experience make on average a little more than $1,000 per month. Regardless of experience, a South African trucker will at least quadruple their income by accepting the median pay in the U.S. Even if carriers paid them half the U.S. median salary, that is still at least double the pay.
Teenagers who are not prodigies or savvy entrepreneurs will find it extremely difficult to earn more than $35,000 a year. Even in cities with a $15 per hour minimum wage, that is still only $30,000 a year for full-time work.
I’ll let John Bendel have the last word here:
“The answer to the driver shortage has not changed. It’s still money. Pay more and you’ll find more drivers. Pay more and the drivers you find will be more educated and capable. Pay more and, as the quality of drivers rises, the industry’s ‘image’ problems will begin to fade. That’s not easy in a competitive industry like trucking. But one way or another, the industry will pay for the drivers it hires. Why not put the money where it will do the most good – in paychecks.”
By the way, he wrote that nearly 30 years ago. LL
Land Line Contributing Editor at Large John Bendel contributed to this story.