Features - Features

Truck Driver Shortage


By Dick Lower

In 1984 I was looking for a different driving job. In my search for another company to drive for, I was confronted with all kinds of explanations and stipulations concerning my application as a driver.

The one thing that was prevalent was the low pay that everyone was offering. It was four years after deregulation and truck drivers and the trucking industry were still rebounding from the adverse effects of this economic disaster.

The industry was assured by politicians that there would not be great negative effects in this transition. However, the best-laid plans often fail and the industry would never be the same after deregulation.

Companies had a sad story to tell and they were sticking to it. There were a lot of new trucking companies entering the scene offering very cheap driving jobs and offering cheap rates to haul whatever freight they could get. The pursuit to get rich was driving drivers' wages into the ground.

There were non-union companies that competed with the larger union companies. More owner-operators who were new to the business were competing against these companies also. It was a cutthroat world the trucking business had evolved into.

Before deregulation, shipping tariffs were controlled by government set rates. It didn't matter what or who you were, the cost for charging a customer to ship his goods was all put down in black and white in a book of shipping rates for your part of the country and it was against the law to cut these rates or deal "under the table."

Now, since deregulation, these rates did not apply. About the only thing the tariffs did was set a standard to start from and from there on it was a downhill grade with a tailwind pushing rates to the bottom. Whoever offered the lowest rate got the hauling. This meant companies were looking to cut labor cost and the first place they looked to was the driver. Not the office help or the pay of executives or downsize the bonus for the dispatchers, but keep the cost of drivers' pay down.

Sooner or later manufacturers will realize that there is more to trucking than cheap rates. The customer will look and see how the product he is buying is being treated and begin to complain. Service and dependability will prevail as the main factors for business and manufacturers. But for this they will have to pay a respective rate.

However, for now, 1984 presents an image of the trucking industry in chaos.

UPDATE 1998: Today, with the year 1999 just around the corner, it has been 15 years since I wrote the above article. Still some of the same problems exist. The pay has been making its way back to decent proportions, but many companies still fall way behind in benefits and pay scale.

UPDATE 2000: The beginning of the new millennium. The trucking world is faced with a shortage of drivers. New and expanding industries are making more transportation demands, and the haphazard manner companies treated drivers in the previous years drove many drivers into different occupations. Corporate figureheads consider the truck driver to be a "menial occupation" that anyone can do. Is not the truck driver considered to have skills equal to a plumber, carpenter or other trade occupation? I guess not!

UPDATE 2002: There is no longer a critical shortage of truck drivers as everyone faces the future in the trucking industry with some uncertainty. The economy has hit trucking hard and driving jobs are not as readily available as they were in 2000. Should the industry go back to regulation and impose the tariffs again to restore some dignity and order? Or is the trucking industry going to continue its slide downward into extinction as we once knew it?

UPDATE 2004: Shortage for truck drivers never did go away as some thought it did. Now the demand is greater than ever for drivers. Long hauls, poor pay, poor food, long hours away from family and an industry that has deceived its workforce too many times have created a lack of confidence among many drivers. A larger demand for truck drivers than ever before has been created as drivers search for trustworthy companies, other drivers give up all together on trucking, and new/potential drivers find that trucking does not support the economical rewards they are looking for.