As reports surface of the trucker shortage in the U.S., one thing’s become clear: disruptions in the supply chain, earlier attributed to the pandemic and, later, to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, are false flags. The disruptions merely revealed long-standing issues in the trucking industry, which precede both COVID-19 and whatever the hell’s wrong with Putin. The long and short of it is trucking doesn’t pay. But between the long and short of it, things are worse than you’d imagine.
It’s so bad, that despite thousands of new truckers, few of them stay long-term. Our modern expectation for free (fast) shipping has something to do with it, but it’s also because of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, per John Oliver. For all the good Jimmy Carter tried, he essentially deregulated the trucking industry so much that abusive carriers would make Uber blush.
Go watch the latest report from Last Week Tonight, linked below. Because in it, Oliver explains pretty well how the trucker crisis has been a long time coming.
The report is kind of long, but Oliver lists three points that explain why trucking sucks, and why it pays about 50 percent less while demanding more work:
- Most long-haul truckers are paid by the mile, not the hour (05:15).
- The relationship between many companies and truckers (09:45) is set up as an agreement with independent contractors.
- Predatory Lease-Purchase agreements (15:10) are more common. (This is when a company leases a truck to a driver, claims they will work towards ownership, but then subjects drivers to a restrictive contract.)
Truck companies don’t have to pay for any amount of time not driven, which then makes truckers choose between proper rest and making money. Like with Abe Attallah (08:15), who reportedly told K&B dispatch in 2014 that he was unable to drive safely as he was falling asleep, only to be scolded and accused of making up “dramatic bullshit!” And no one needs that in the morning, right?
Also, companies are free to avoid paying benefits while offloading expenses to truckers, who are “independent contractors.” These freelancers have to fend with high costs because they’re not really employed. Well, not as employees.
One couple in the report (11:10) says they made $150,000 in one year. But then the trucker explains that $100,000 covered fuel, and another $13,000 went towards an engine repair. So, after oil changes and preventative maintenance, maybe tires, the couple earned about $22,000.
Finally, the truck companies outdo themselves — or Uber or Lyft or Amazon — by telling truckers they could eek their way out by leasing a truck most will never own. One trucking executive said that only five to ten percent of their truckers become owners under lease-purchase programs. It’s basically a sunk-cost wet dream for the carrier and a nightmare of debt for the trucker.
This is pretty much why turnover averages about 100 percent in large trucking companies. At some others, turnover rate is up to 300 percent. In a single year, some carriers will hire three truckers to do one job; because most will quit. As Oliver says, this isn’t really a trucker shortage. And it’s not really on truckers.