Leaders recognize driver retention problem; let’s fix it now

July 28, 2021

Jay Grimes & Bryce Mongeon


Last week, Cabinet secretaries Pete Buttigieg and Marty Walsh offered some promising words that could help the millions of people who make a living behind the wheel – “Truck drivers are essential workers. We need to treat them that way.”

The pair are leading the administration’s new Supply Chain Disruption Task Force and are quickly finding out that it’s hard to keep drivers around when they don’t get paid for all the long hours they work, when they can’t find a safe place to park, and when they have to comply with many costly regulations that don’t improve highway safety. (Well, duh!)

Sarcasm aside, it is refreshing to hear the secretaries acknowledge that the industry needs to treat drivers better. And we certainly agree with some of the ideas they mentioned, such as paying drivers by the hour, not penalizing them for delays out of their control, more flexible hours of service, and better training. However, we disagree that fixing the driver retention problem should be a “years- or decades-long effort.” Drivers have been shortchanged by the rest of the industry for far too long, and lawmakers in Washington can take actions that would immediately make trucking a more rewarding career.

One of the simplest would be repealing the Fair Labor Standards Act overtime exemption for motor carriers so that drivers earn equitable wages for their time on the job.

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that employees receive overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week. Unfortunately, truckers are specifically exempted from this overtime pay guarantee. This exemption was implemented in the 1930s to prevent truckers from working too many hours, but today, it simply prevents them from receiving adequate compensation for the work they do.

Exempting drivers from guaranteed overtime pay exacerbates problems with detention time because shippers, receivers and others in the industry have no financial incentive to load and unload trucks in an efficient manner. If a shipper or receiver knows that they won’t be on the hook to pay overtime, they simply don’t care as much about respecting a driver’s time. If repealed, drivers would either be fairly compensated for the extra hours they work, or shippers and receivers would find ways to reduce delays to avoid paying overtime. Simply put, the current law ensures that a driver’s time is less valued than other professions. That must change.

We’re pleased that U.S. DOT leaders sound like they want to address driver retention, but it’s going to take more than words to convince drivers that things will get better.

Since the pandemic began, truckers have been praised by presidents, members of Congress, and cabinet secretaries for their efforts to keep the nation running. Yet, lawmakers have not enacted any meaningful policies that would actually improve working conditions for the millions of drivers that continue delivering for the American people. Repealing the Fair Labor Standards Act exemption for motor carriers would show that Washington is committed to improving driver retention. They should start today! LL

Jay Grimes is OOIDA’s director of federal affairs, and Bryce Mongeon is OOIDA’s director of legislative affairs.