Truck driver vaccine mandates loom for cross-border operations

Canadian fleets are reporting a “modest” increase in Covid-19 vaccines among their truck drivers, but Canada’s largest trucking association continues to warn of supply chain chaos if vaccine mandates go ahead as planned.

(Photo: istock)

Canada is scheduled to enforce a vaccine mandate for border-crossing truck drivers beginning Jan. 15, while the U.S. is widely expected to apply its version of such rules by Jan. 22. The Canadian government has also announced plans for a vaccine mandate that would apply to all federally regulated trucking operations, including domestic fleets that cross provincial borders, although a final date has yet to be set for those rules.

Neither government has shown signs that they are reconsidering enforcement plans, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) says.

“The Canadian trucking industry is preparing or bracing for these mandates one way or another,” CTA president Stephen Laskowski said in a press release.

“While there’s reportedly a modest uptick of drivers getting vaccinated at some companies, there are substantial reports of higher-than-normal turnover and others declaring their intention to leave the industry or seek employment in the provincially regulated sector over the impending mandate at the border and the recently announced domestic mandate impacting the federally regulated trucking sector.”

Vaccination rates

About 87% of Canadians over the age of 12 are now considered fully vaccinated, although that share varies by region, according to Public Health Agency of Canada data.

The CTA estimates that as many as 12,000 to 16,000 border-crossing truck drivers could be lost this month if the Jan. 15 mandate takes effect. The alliance previously calculated that about 120,000 Canadian truck drivers run cross-border routes, while 40,000 U.S.-licensed truck drivers do the same.

The alliance also believes as many as 30,000 truck drivers could leave the supply chain if a planned vaccine mandate is applied to all federally regulated domestic operations.

“We are concerned that this government has no plan to avoid much worse disruption of supply chains and has not taken steps to ensure that food and critical components get where they are needed,” federal Conservative transportation critic Melissa Lantsman said in a Jan. 5 letter to Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra.

While supporting vaccination, she said the trucking industry itself has shown little transmission of Covid-19 within workplaces.

“What is the government’s plan to support the trucking industry? How and when will vaccine mandates be enforced, and will the government support rapid testing as an alternative? Finally, when will this government take action to protect supply chains and increase their resiliency and stability?”

The driver shortage

Canada’s trucking industry has so far been exempted from vaccine mandates that have been applied to other federally regulated transportation sectors.

Some sectors of the economy are expected to be particularly vulnerable to intensifying driver shortages if affected carriers are forced to prioritize different customers, CTA says.

“CTA strongly believes the health benefits of vaccines are unquestionable. But that does not change the fact that any substantial reduction of commercial drivers, when there’s already an acute shortage, would further disrupt a very fragile supply chain and the economy,” Laskowski said.

The alliance has argued that safety protocols, high vaccination rates among drivers, and the self-isolating nature of driving have helped to keep rates of Covid-19 low within the trucking industry.

There has also been opposition to the vaccine mandates in the U.S., where 14 senators have called on U.S. President Joe Biden to work with the Canadian government to delay the border-focused rules.

“Despite the good intentions underpinning this action, we fear that the imposition of vaccination mandates as a requirement to cross the land border will exacerbate the existing challenges facing our freight networks and supply chain, and could further fuel inflation and rising prices on top of what Americans are already seeing,” the senators said in a Dec. 10 letter.

This Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court is also scheduled to hear arguments around testing and vaccine requirements for businesses with more than 100 employees. That has been opposed by business groups including the American Trucking Associations and Truckload Carriers Association.