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Why aren’t there enough truckers? The reasons could fill a semi, industry members say

Why aren't there enough truckers? The reasons could fill a semi, industry members say


Why aren’t there enough truckers? The reasons could fill a semi, industry members say

Supply chain shortages are impacting the global market, here’s whySupply chain bottlenecks are creating shortages and price inflation around the world. Biden released a plan that could help ease the jam at LA ports.Just The FAQs, USA TODAYImagine driving hundreds of miles to deliver something to a business that will allow you to drop off the goods, but won’t allow you inside to use the restroom. That’s one of the indignities of the trucking industry, underscored during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. And it was made worse when some states chose to close their rest areas as a precaution to prevent virus spread and a way to discourage travel. “We’re being called essential workers and heroes, but no one lets us use the bathroom,” said Desirae Wood, a driver from Lake Worth who has been at the helm of big rigs for 13 years. “There’s no toilet on the semi, so now you’re living like a savage.”Supply chain problems getting worseAcross the country, consumers are noticing a progressively worsening supply chain shortage for groceries and retail items. Some manufacturers still aren’t operating at the levels they reached before the pandemic.And, with people staying at home to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, they ordered a lot of stuff to be transported and delivered.► Supply chain issues:  What are they and how will shortages impact the holiday shopping season?Part of that shortage issue is the availability of truckers to carry products on interstates. Insiders of the trucking industry agree that the shortage isn’t a new problem. They also fear there’s more bumps on the road to come for attracting new drivers or retaining current ones — such as COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Feeling ‘like you’re contributing to the world’ If you love driving and want some satisfaction for your role in society, driving a truck hits both targets. “When you grab something off the shelf from the store, 70% of the items got there because of a trucker,” said David Armellini, CEO of Armellini Logistics, a family-owned trucking company based in Palm City. In recent years, Wood said she contracted with a farm in Loxahatchee and carted crops coast to coast. “I got into trucking because I love driving,” she said. “When you arrive with your product, you get a sense of pride and accomplishment, like you’re contributing to the world.”Wages are increasing for truckers as their importance in the supply chain becomes more valued. “People are seeing trucking is a great middle class job, and the pay is increasing,” said Chris Thropp, CEO of Sage Truck Driving Schools, a Pennsylvania-based company that has a commercial driver’s license school in partnership with Indian River State College in Fort Pierce. “By the end of your first year, you can earn up to $60,000.” ‘It’s not a glamorous job’ As of 2019, more than 3.5 million Americans worked as truck drivers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with self-employed truckers making up about 29% of the truck transportation industry.That’s been in spite of the reputation of the business. “Most of us don’t raise our kids to be truck drivers,” Armellini admitted. “It’s not a highly sought-after occupation, and it’s not a glamorous job. And in general, drivers haven’t been treated professionally.” Wood said retention is more of the issue for the industry than the inability to recruit. While headlines across the country refer to a trucker shortage, she discounts the idea. “You can’t have both a labor shortage and a high turnover rate,” she said. She’s also wary that the trucking industry markets a shortage crisis every few months to attract new drivers, while not addressing issues that would help retain veterans. That’s why she founded Real Women In Trucking Inc, a nonprofit group that addresses safety, harassment and sexual assault issues in the industry. Women drivers represent about 8% of people behind the wheels, according to the Department of Labor. Have vaccine mandates already impacted trucking? A false social media message that circulated in October attributed the driver shortage to COVID-19 vaccine mandates. A USA TODAY investigation found no industry officials blaming the mandates at that time. But with the federal government crafting rules for all businesses with more than 100 employees to have their work forces vaccinated or get regular testing, companies are forseeing an impact. “A vaccine mandate would impose a big challenge,” Thropp said. “And it’s a little bit unfair to drivers. They spend most of their time alone, they don’t have much interaction with anyone, and it would be difficult to do testing while they’re on the road if that’s required.” Other laws already exist that hamper trucking recruitment, notably age requirements and the criminalization of marijuana, Armellini said. ► Fact check: Supply chain delays not related to COVID-19 vaccine mandatesThe Department of Transportation requires professional truck drivers who drive across state lines to be at least 21 years old. That might be past the point a young adult has chosen a career field, Armellini said. It’s also a point when a person may have already taken up smoking recreational pot regularly. While the substance is legal in a growing number of states, it’s still illegal in Florida and prohibited for truck drivers. Armellini said drivers must submit to two random marijuana tests a year.  Lamaur Stancil is the Treasure Coast regional economy reporter covering business and industries, including retail, tourism and hospitality. Contact him at 321-987-7179 or and follow him at Lamaur Stancil on Facebook and @TCPalmLStancil on Twitter.

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