Above the gridlocked plain

I read a recent article in USA Today about the truck driver shortage. While it may have been written to be humorous, not many truck drivers were smiling. I wrote to the newspaper, but my letter never got published. For posterity, however, here’s what I told them.

I addressed the reference in their headline about “good buddies” (a term that drivers have detested for three decades) and chewed the newspaper a bit about downplaying the importance of decent pay for the very challenging job truckers do.

Trucking companies have always been great at attracting people in to being truck drivers, but as the 120 percent turnover mentioned in USA Today indicates, carriers’ human resource skills haven’t evolved much past those of carnival barkers.

Certainly there is beautiful scenery visible from certain stretches of interstates, but what truck drivers see most often is a lot of traffic.

The hourly compensation figure mentioned in the article was totally misleading because, as you well know, most drivers receive nothing for their time – even the 33 to 43 hours spent every week trying to get loaded or unloaded. The only compensation truckers receive is for miles driven and even that isn’t exactly on the up-and-up, with short mileage formulas used for pay miles.

In my letter, I pointed out that the real work week for many truck drivers is 70 to 80 hours and most companies that hire them expect them to stay on the road and far from home for weeks at a time for an equivalent hourly wage of a fast food worker. The fact that truckers quit and look for something better isn’t a surprise.

Ironically, the officials behind the ATA recruiting campaign know that the only way to really resolve their retention issues is to boost driver pay by a minimum of $25,000 annually and improve working conditions, but that gets little more than lip service.

Right now the country is still blessed with many good, professional drivers with decades of experience and millions of accident-free miles behind them that endure the hardships and cherish the purple mountains’ majesty, but they won’t live or work forever.