MCSAC Day 1: A possible solution to driver retention problem

July 19, 2021

Greg Grisolano

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The trucking industry’s problems with driver recruitment, retention and safety are economic rather than technical.

That’s according to the experience and research of Dr. Michael Belzer, a professor at Wayne State University and former tank truck driver who has been studying the economics of trucking for more than three decades.

Belzer was presenting some of his research to FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee on Monday, during the first day of a two-day summit amongst industry stakeholders and regulators. The summit is being held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Listen to Professor Michael Belzer discuss the driver shortage myth on OOIDA’s ‘Live From Exit 24’ here.

 

One of the key problems identified by Belzer’s research is something that should be obvious to anyone familiar with the trucking industry: drivers work long hours for low wages, especially when most don’t receive any compensation for nondriving duties.

Half of all truck drivers work more than 60 hours a week. Twenty percent of drivers work more than 4,000 hours per year – more than two full-time jobs. Most truck drivers earn little or nothing for non-driving labor, which averages out to about 25% of their work time.

Belzer’s solution is for the U.S. departments of Labor and Transportation to work together to make changes that will allow truckers to be fairly compensated for the nondriving work time.

Belzer said the two departments have conflicting definitions of the word “work.” While the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division says workers can expect their employer to pay for all work, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration allows employers to declare drivers off duty while keeping them on the job.

“Off-duty drivers do not get paid for time that doesn’t belong to them,” Belzer said. “We have to put a floor under labor standards (in trucking). It simply means a foundation that everyone has to live by. Trucking should have to live by, and the customers and clients of trucking should have to live by the standards everyone else has to live by. We’re going to treat you with respect because we have to pay you.

Other key takeaways from Belzer’s research: There is no driver shortage. Millions of people hold a commercial driver’s license but don’t use it. And new drivers are created and recruited all the time, but carriers do not retain them.

“If we want to retain drivers… it’s going to be a lot easier if they’re not working themselves to death,” Belzer said.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said it supports FMCSA’s focus on improving driver retention.

 

“Professor Belzer’s presentation echoed solutions that we’ve been talking about for years – fair pay, better working conditions, and eliminating regulations that contribute to the driver churn like the Fair Labor Standards Act exemption for motor carriers,” said Jay Grimes, OOIDA director of federal affairs. “OOIDA will be emphasizing these reforms during tomorrow’s in-depth discussion on driver retention.”

OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer is a member of the MCSAC and serves as chair of a new 25-member commercial motor vehicle driver panel. The panel will provide direct feedback to the agency on issues facing commercial motor vehicle drivers.

Also on the Day 1 agenda, the committee reviewed a presentation of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System; heard brief remarks from FMCSA Deputy Administrator Meera Joshi, and deliberated on action items pertaining to small trucks and their impact on safety.

The committee agreed with OOIDA that more data needs to be analyzed for the package and small goods delivery sector and provided additional feedback on the aging demographic of the driver workforce.

Tuesday’s agenda includes a Truck Driver Market Update presentation from the American Trucking Associations, and further discussion of CMV driver recruitment and retention.

Members of the public can register to watch the meetings here. LL

 

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Greg Grisolano joined Land Line in 2013. He was formerly a reporter for the Joplin Globe. He brings business writing and photography skills to Land Line, and has a passion for finding and telling stories about the people who make up the trucking industry.