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.”
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.
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