Truck drivers are re-evaluating their lives, too

There’s a clumsy sign taped beneath the menu and ordering screen at my local coffee joint’s drive-through lane. It bugs me a lot. It’s on ordinary white 8.5×11 printer paper, with words in fairly large type obviously written in Word. It’s been there for months, now fading badly.

“Due to a staff shortage,” it begins, so you know what’s coming. Naturally, it ends with “Please be patient.”

truck sunset
(Photo: istock)

Patience is indeed required. Trapped in the drive-through lane, I’ve waited as long as 25 minutes to get a cup of mediocre coffee.

Simple fix: maybe pay people a decent wage, and don’t duck out on the benefits cost by limiting them to part-time work. Want loyal employees? Earn it.

It’s not just fast-food joints by any means, and it’s not just the service industry. It’s like this all over the place, and almost an epidemic on its own.

It’s a sign of the times, a totally unexpected result of the Covid-19 pandemic. And there’s a real parallel in trucking.

The so-called “Great Resignation” is a bigger deal in the U.S. than it is in Canuckistan, but many people here have also been reluctant to return to the jobs they were  essentially forced to have a couple of years ago. Don’t blame government handouts that were necessary to keep a lot of folks afloat. Maybe for some it made sense to collect pandemic pogey rather than work in some crap job that didn’t actually pay the bills. What was the diff? No, it’s much bigger and more complex than that.

“No matter how much I liked driving… I’d hit the ejection-seat button in a heartbeat.”

It’s a matter of mass dissatisfaction.

The fact of it is that a lot of people have been re-evaluating their lives in the last two years. Discovering new ambitions, retiring old ones, changing everything because what once seemed important just isn’t anymore. Certainly not enough to suffer a lousy job –or two, or even three sometimes.

And if you ask me, that’s what’s been happening in trucking, too. Mass dissatisfaction, plain and simple. It’s why we have a driver shortage. It remains the industry’s biggest issue and it’s been growing for years, begun by deregulation in the 1980s and hugely exacerbated by the “just in time” delivery model. Then the piling on of increasingly restrictive regulations of one sort or another over the last 10-15 years has brought us to the point where driving a truck might not be worth it anymore.

Who wants a job where, for example, you might have a camera facing you all the time? No matter how much I liked driving, that would be it for me. I’d hit the ejection-seat button in a heartbeat, and I know guys who’ve done exactly that.

Then there’s the issue of detention time while loading and unloading. The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration looked at this in 2018 and estimated that excessive wait time is “associated with reductions in annual earnings of $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion” for drivers in the truckload sector. That’s more than just annoying. Just the other day I read a paid-by-the-mile driver’s lament about being stranded at a loading dock for an entire weekend because, despite his being early, the receiver couldn’t unload him before 5 p.m. on a Friday – and simply wouldn’t make an exception to their closing time. I wish this were unique.

Obviously, I could reel off countless similar examples of drivers being abused in this and other ways. And I think it points to where much of the problem lies – on the shipper’s side. I’ll certainly blame carriers if they don’t stand up for their drivers in such cases, but by and large they’ve been trying hard to bite into the dissatisfaction over the last decade. Pay has improved for many folks at the wheel, and that has no doubt helped the situation somewhat. But until shippers play ball and take responsibility for some of our issues, we’re not going to get very far. It’s plain as day.

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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  • I am glad that I have quit longhaul trucking.

    After going thru different carriers, and hearing the same BS sob-sob-sob stories of excuses for not paying for detention, enough is enough. I was fed up of lies and deception. I went thru well over 10 carriers in my trucking career and same ole stories, over and over.

    So, I became a local trucker for a local company, and the relationship is simple: I’m a professional, I get paid for my time and if there’s an issue, let’s talk about it. Never got detained at shippers or recievers.

  • Companies like Costco are paying.very good wages. Transit systems and manufacturing and construction are out bidding transport companies
    With hourly pay ovetime if wanted Free coffee and some cases like a mobile home factory in Huron County $5 / hour off the price of a new single or double wide after 5000 or more hours and working with a local group to have a trailer park for essential workers including P S Ws and willing to hire people living in minivans or homeless
    One garbage collection company in the U S and a local group that help staff a nonprofit nursing home and local hospital got a old lot that was a grain elevator and put up a higher density housing with 2 and 3 bedroom apartments and a new 2 bay ambulance station and a spot inside for small disabled bus and 6 trucks and 20 cars or light trucks under a solar roof. Why can we not work with the Fed gov to provide a low interest loans for projects like this in higher housing cost parts of Ont.

  • I quit long haul almost 14 years ago. Best thing I ever did. I get paid by the hour and home every night making over 100k. If you’re in the GTA, there are good jobs out there.

  • You can place the driver shortage in many places.
    Who wants to be away from home for days on end? You may be earning dollars but your personal expenses are your own. We all have to eat, don’t we?
    Sleeping in a bunk … I can’t wait until the next trip out … NOT!
    It might be a great, travelling lifestyle, for a single, no dependent person.
    Kiss your social life good bye. You get a couple of days, and then you’re on your way again.
    Companies can pay more, but, as the lifestyle catches up, drivers will still leave the industry.
    Dock delays are an old story. Maybe there should be a network of the worst companys that do it constantly. Then, STOP delivering, or picking up from them. Hurt their supply chain where it counts.
    This problem will continue, as long as the transport company’s play the drivers as pawns. You can supply new, upgraded equipment but that does not eradicate the problem!
    There used to be respect amongst the driving profession: not any more!

  • With the trucking miles, I have covered well over the 7.8 million mile mark, and to get back in the truck, be it local or over the road, I would go back if the pay was 30 dollars an hour from the I arrive at the company, do my pretip, drive, pick up drop off, sleep, as long as I am responsible for that truck, trailer, and load. So trip from Toronto to Vancouver would cost the trucking company about 5500 dollars or more