Trucking troubles: Staffing shortage, COVID-19 vaccine mandate causing concerns

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As the country struggles to move goods and materials across the country, one of the most important cogs in the supply chain gear has a historic staffing shortage.

According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the trucking industry has 80,000 fewer drivers than it needs to meet the demand. The ATA fears that if this trend continues, by 2030, the shortage could double and reach more than 160,000 fewer drivers.

"If it’s a national issue, it’s a local issue," John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Trucking Association (MTA), said.

Because of the shortage, Hausladen says demand is the biggest challenge for trucking companies right now. From a backlog of goods at U.S. ports to an increase in home delivers – both from the pandemic and the continued ease to get goods delivered to people’s homes – the demand is very high.

On top of the shortage, Hausladen says the industry is also worried about the expected COVID-19 vaccine mandate to be put in place for trucking companies with more than 100 employees. As part of President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate, Hausladen said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is days away from issuing the mandate for the trucking industry.

"We’re going see drivers exit the industry over this," Hausladen said.

To try and convince the Biden administration from excluding the trucking industry from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the ATA sent a letter to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

In the letter, it breaks down surveyed information it received from ATA members. It found that half of ATA drivers were unvaccinated and that 25% of them would leave the industry altogether if the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is put in place.

"The last thing we need right now is drivers exiting this industry because of a mandate when the supply chain is so fragile," Hausladen added.

The ATA also argued in the letter that their, "workplace safety protocols that have already proven effective in mitigating the risks of COVID-19 workplace exposure." Hausladen says, due to the nature of the work, with drivers spending a lot of time by themselves, the job sets itself up to operate safely during the pandemic.

The trucking industry is also closely watching whether Biden’s infrastructure plan will pass. Hausladen says money is tied to one of the bills that would fund an apprentice program to train 3,000 future drivers.

Locally, Morrell Companies is also struggling with staffing. Down 10%, owner Trent Morrell says he’s working to fill six trucks.

Morrell is also worried about the impact the vaccine mandate will have on the industry. But, as he and the industry have done, Morrell is confident they’ll be able to adjust and get trucks on the road.

"I believe it’s a very challenging situation. But I believe by focusing on it, investing into it and getting to where we approach the problem and addressing it [by] being proactive, we can make great progress on it," Morrell said.

To help, Morrell said he’s connected with local high schools to boost interest with students – he’s even increased wages, put a bigger focus on benefits and made sure his trucks have updated technology to compete in the market.