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Truckers warn ‘disastrous’ mandate will worsen supply chain chaos (WE)

13 November 2021


New York Times, 12 November 2021, BREAKING NEWS
“A panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, held that a group of challengers to the mandate was likely to succeed in its claim that it was an unlawful overreach, and barred the government from moving forward with it.”

Washington Examiner title: Truckers warn ‘disastrous’ mandate will worsen supply chain chaos
By: Zachary Halaschak
Date: 8 November 2021

“Truck drivers fear that President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate will further exacerbate the supply chain crisis and cause snarls going into 2022.

The trucking industry issued new warnings after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration released guidance Thursday on the mandates after much anticipation. All companies with more than 100 employees will be required to have their workers vaccinated or provide proof of weekly negative COVID-19 tests. Additionally, all businesses that have contracts with the federal government, no matter the size, will also have to adhere to the vaccine mandate, although they don’t have a testing option.

The deadline for the guidance, which has originally been set for Dec. 8, was pushed back to Jan. 4 in an apparent effort to avoid supply chain disruptions right in the middle of the holiday season. Many trucking companies contend that pushing back the deadline is only a temporary fix and that the supply chain will become more frayed in January when the rules become effective.

The Truckload Carriers Association had hoped that truckers would be exempt from the mandate that is expected to affect 100 million workers in the United States — or about two-thirds of the country’s workforce.

“TCA repeatedly called on the Administration to heed our warnings regarding this mandate’s impact on the already constrained supply chain , yet they chose to proceed with a disastrous mandate which will undoubtedly ensure the trucking industry loses a substantial number of drivers,” the group said in a statement.

During a Friday interview with the Washington Examiner, Mark Allen, the CEO of the International Foodservice Distributors Association, said he was surprised that there were not specific exemptions for truckers, especially given the solitary nature of the job and that most drivers are alone in their vehicles all day and have little person-to-person interaction.

Allen emphasized that as soon as vaccines became available, his industry worked hard to encourage employees to get inoculated, although he said that a large share remains unvaccinated. He noted that there are already thousands of open driver positions that need to be filled and applying a vaccine or testing requirement will have “a significant” effect on worsening the labor shortage.

“If we lose even a fraction of our drivers, that has the potential to have a significant impact on our ability to service the customers,” he said.

Some 4.3 million workers quit their jobs in August, a number that is up from 4 million in July. The amount of people quitting is the highest since the U.S. began keeping records of the statistic about 20 years ago — equivalent to about 3% of the country’s workforce.

The ATA, Truckload Carriers Association, International Foodservice Distributors Association, and dozens of other interested business groups signed an open letter to Biden this week outlining steps to help ease the supply chain crisis. It highlighted the severe effects the mandate could have on the industry.

“We estimate companies covered by the mandate could lose 37% of drivers at a time when the nation is already short 80,000 truck drivers,” the letter reads. “We ask for flexibility for transportation and supply chain essential workers, particularly truck drivers who spend most of their time in their trucks and have minimal contact with colleagues and customers.”

Because the regulations only apply to businesses with over 100 employees, it is likely that truck drivers who don’t want to get vaccinated will quit their jobs and move to smaller companies.

Lawrence Transportation Company is a refrigerated truckload carrier based out of southeastern Minnesota. Its owner, Eric Lawrence, manages just under 150 employees and told the Washington Examiner on Friday that he fears some of his workers could end up leaving for smaller companies.

Lawrence said some companies might try to pare their businesses back to ensure they don’t fall under the mandate, although he pointed out that OSHA said companies with fewer than 100 workers could be included in the future and that it will make a determination after a month of public comment on the matter.

“So, if we’ve got to get under 100 in January, and they drop another ruling on us, and now, we’ve got to get under 50? I don’t know. It just isn’t feasible,” Lawrence said.

Unvaccinated truckers who want to continue driving may wind up at smaller companies, although others could just call it quits and leave the market entirely.

A quarter of truckers on the road are at or close to the age of retirement , according to Lindsey Trent, the co-founder and president of the Next Generation in Trucking Association.

“We’ve got an aging industry, and it might push a substantial group into early retirement,” Lawrence said of Biden’s order.

Allen said the industry needs to get serious about ways to recruit newer and younger truckers, given the aging industry and glut of job openings elsewhere.

One suggestion for improving the employment situation in the long run is allowing those between the ages of 18 and 21 to participate in the labor market after proper training. Currently, federal law permits those under 21 to obtain commercial driver’s licenses, although they can’t drive across state lines, severely limiting their ability to improve the supply chain problems.

A bipartisan proposal sponsored by Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana would create a pilot program to allow drivers as young as 18 to move goods across state lines. The program would involve up to 3,000 participants at a time and would be evaluated after three years.

“The driver shortage has needed to be addressed for years, but it has now reached a crisis level as we witness major supply chain bottlenecks across all sectors,” Young told the Washington Examiner last month.

Lawrence said he favors letting younger drivers into the industry.

“This is a good career for some young people that don’t choose to go onto secondary education, but the way the laws are set up, the way insurance is set up — there is a big swath of people that we’re losing every year,” he said.

For truckers who aren’t vaccinated but want to stay with their company, they can instead submit to coronavirus testing, although that option has been panned by many in the industry as a daunting undertaking and logistical nightmare.

Some drivers may face difficulty meeting the requirement while traversing thousands of miles of interstate and moving about the country, often in remote and rural areas, each week.

“Logistically, at best, it’s difficult, but it’s leaning toward almost impossible,” Lawrence said.”

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