The myth known as driver shortage

July 14, 2021

SJ Munoz

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The truth – or myth – about the driver shortage was revealed on the July 14 episode of “Live From Exit 24.”

The hourlong discussion led by host and Land Line Managing Editor Jami Jones, included OOIDA Executive Vice President Lewie Pugh, Michael H. Belzer, a professor of economics at Wayne State University, Detroit, and Land Line Magazine Senior Editor Mark Schremmer.

Making the clarification between a shortage and churn is key in this conversation, Pugh said.

“It’s mainly so drivers make what they should make salary wise and their time quits getting wasted,” Pugh said. “Let’s start calling it driver churn, because that’s what it is. It costs a lot of money to live on the road and that’s something they always leave out of the equation. Maybe you should pay your drivers more and they will stay.”

Listen to ‘Live From Exit 24’

Misinformation, like offers of as much as $14,000 per week in pay to attract new drivers, have enhanced the driver shortage narrative.

“It’s a false narrative that’s helping this myth that the issue is they can’t find drivers, and their solution is to change regulations and let kids right out of high school start driving long-haul,” Schremmer said. “The issue is a lack of pay and poor working conditions. No matter what the average salary is, the entry level drivers, who often have the most difficult jobs, aren’t making that. If you get in a bad lease-purchase agreement, sometimes you aren’t even making minimum wage.”

The parking crisis, law enforcement, driver detention and more also have created a level of heightened stress for drivers as they endure a piecework pay rate, Pugh explained.

Deregulation in the 1980s is where Belzer recalls the driver shortage conversation beginning. For him, a former tank driver and author of “Sweatshops on Wheels: Winners and Losers in Trucking Deregulation,” the solution to this problem is rather simple.

“When you pay more money, you get better people,” Belzer said. “It’s basic economics. Pay is the strongest predictor of safety we have. Most employees get an hourly wage, which means you’re getting paid for your time. People don’t realize truck drivers are not paid a salary. They don’t get paid for loading, unloading or any delayed time. That’s really the problem. The solution is pretty straightforward. Pay people for all their time.”

Belzer expands upon the point that safety and driver pay are linked in an article in the July issue of Land Line Magazine.

Perhaps the effects of COVID-19, which reinforced how vital truckers are to America’s economy, have opened some eyes.

During a recent roundtable discussion hosted by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and FMCSA acting Administrator Meera Joshi, those who took part seemed to understand the idea that pay and safety are linked, Schremmer said.

“It doesn’t matter what we do if we don’t fix the problems with low pay and working conditions,” Schremmer said. “The hole in the bottom of the bucket is still there. It has to be fixed in the way Dr. Belzer is talking about. It has to be made a good job again, and that’s how to fix it. It is refreshing to see this being acklowdged.”

OOIDA talk show

“Live From Exit 24” is scheduled for 11 a.m. Central every other Wednesday. Listeners can tune in to the show on the Live From Exit 24 website, OOIDA Facebook page or on OOIDA’s YouTube channel. The next episode airs Wednesday, July 28.

Survey

“Live From Exit 24” launched as a way to expand OOIDA’s communication with members and to hear directly from drivers across the industry. OOIDA is asking for truck drivers to fill out a survey to let the Association know how you are liking the show so far. Help guide what’s addressed during the program. The survey is here. LL

SJ Munoz is the newest edition to the Land Line Media team. He brings a variety of skills to the job as he has experience as a reporter, photographer and in radio. He’s also written for Omaha Magazine, the Lawrence Journal-World, and PrepsKC.com.