(Updates to include additional reporting throughout.)
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The Biden administration is seeking to improve trucker pay and recruitment in response to strains on the supply chain.
The Transportation and Labor departments announced Thursday a study on trucker compensation, forming a board to increase women in the industry, and launching a pilot program to allow people as young as 18 to drive trucks interstate. The moves come after mandates in the recent infrastructure law (Public Law 117-58) that are meant to ease supply chain bottlenecks.
One trade group, the American Trucking Associations, has estimated the industry is short 80,000 drivers, and others cite companies’ retention problems. Outside groups praised the first steps, but some questioned whether 18-year-olds could be trusted to handle 18-wheelers.
“In some parts of the trucking industry, 90% of drivers turn over each year,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “Making sure truck drivers are paid and treated fairly is the right thing to do, and it will help with both recruiting new drivers and keeping experienced drivers on the job.”
The department will also study detention time—how long truckers wait for new shipments to load or unload—and use electronic logs to review how that affects the likelihood of a crash or a violation of hours-of-service rules. It will also work with the Transportation Research Board to look into payments truckers receive per mile or load compared with being paid per hour, and how that affects their safety on the road.
Long-distance truck drivers are largely paid by the mile, not the hour, “and they end up working a really tremendous amount of uncompensated hours during the time that they’re in detention,” said Terri Gerstein, director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program and a senior fellow at the Economic Policy Institute. These new studies could help to create a record to start addressing the problem, she said.
The department is moving forward with a plan to allow 18- to 20-year-olds to operate trucks in interstate commerce supervised by an experienced driver for two probationary periods. A notice set to publish Friday details the program, which will allow no more than 3,000 apprentices to participate at once and require each motor carrier to submit monthly data.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will screen motor carriers to determine their eligibility to participate in the pilot program “if they meet strict safety standards,” the DOT said. FMCSA will also contact carriers with standout safety records to ask them to join the pilot.
Safety advocates and some in the industry have been raising concerns about the young trucker program since it was included in the infrastructure law, arguing that teenage drivers are more likely to crash.
“Anybody that’s ever had teenage kids knows what it’s like to try to insure them on any vehicle, and the reason it costs lots more is because younger drivers crash more,” said Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “Will it be different for those that are behind the wheel of the biggest vehicles on the road? We think it’s highly unlikely.” OOIDA submitted its comments on the program Wednesday.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will begin soliciting nominations for the Women of Trucking Advisory Board, which is designed to report on challenges facing female truckers. The White House is planning a virtual meeting this week to talk about how to create more equity for women in the industry.
The FMCSA, the Department of Labor, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will also form a task force to investigate and report on predatory truck leasing arrangements.
“Too many American truckers are set up to fail with financing schemes or coerced into paying junk fees,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said. “To keep our economy moving, we must ensure that truckers who work hard don’t face financial ruin.”
Truck leasing agreements have in some cases been used to exploit workers, particularly minority and immigrant workers in Southern California, and more needs to be done to stop it from occurring, said Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.). Napolitano, who helped craft the task force portion of the infrastructure law, said in a statement that she has met “too many Southern California truck drivers who work 16+ hour days making less than minimum wage with no benefits due to unscrupulous companies that require forced leasing employment.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at email@example.com