Truck-driving industry exec. warns vaccine mandate could worsen US supply chain problems

by mcardinal

Chris Lange, FISM News



A vaccine mandate for the trucking industry by President Biden could further exacerbate the crippling supply chain logjam at U.S. ports, according to a top industry executive. 

J.B. Hunt Chief of Operating Officer Nicholas Hobbs says such a mandate will mean “a lot of bureaucracy” for the trucking industry in a Fox Business interview.  “I don’t see it really helping the situation much other than confusion in the supply chain even more,” he said.

For an industry already dealing with the worst labor shortage it has seen in four decades, a vaccine requirement could not come at a worse time.

A recent FreightWaves online poll of truck drivers shows that 65% of respondents have already received the COVID-19 vaccination, but that nearly three quarters (73%) of those who have not taken the jab will look for other jobs should such a mandate go into effect. 

A separate poll conducted by CDLLife the day after President Biden announced vaccination requirements for businesses with 100+ employees found that 26% of drivers said they would choose getting fired over forced inoculation. An additional 10.3%  of drivers indicated that they would quit their job if their employers enforce the mandate, and 9.7% more said they would seek to change jobs within the industry to avoid a mandate.

The American Truckers Associations has issued a statement arguing that vaccine mandates “threaten to cause further disruptions throughout the supply chain, impeding our nation’s COVID response efforts and putting the brakes on any economic revival.”

The Association also took a swipe at the Biden administration’s seemingly arbitrary decision to only require employee vaccinations for large companies. “If these mandates are designed to protect Americans, then why the discriminatory 100-employee threshold, picking winners and losers for both employees and employers,” read the statement. ATA says that it is reviewing options “and will choose a path that protects our industry—so that it can continue delivering on behalf of our country.”

“We’re in an industry where we can’t afford any fallout. We don’t have enough drivers today,” said Eric Fuller, chief executive of U.S. Xpress Enterprises Inc., a Tennessee-based trucking carrier, in a Wall Street Journal interview. A federal vaccine requirement, according to Fuller, could “create additional stress on each point of the supply chain,” creating a “situation where we have empty shelves.” Fuller estimates that under half of the company’s 7,000 truck drivers are vaccinated.

A testing requirement will create frustrating logistical challenges for operators who are paid by the mile, according to Dave Jackson, chief executive of Phoenix-based Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings Inc., the nation’s largest truckload carrier. He added that such a requirement will result in more delivery delays, negatively impacting driver wages. 

The trucking industry raised driver wages by 25% in 2019, with many truck companies offering hefty signing bonuses, but the driver shortage has persisted, made worse by the pandemic. The lack of drivers has further impeded the flow of products coming into the U.S. at a time when American consumers face supply shortages and higher consumer costs.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Fox Business earlier this week that the Biden administration is searching for ways to ease regulations for truck drivers in an effort to alleviate at least a portion of the supply chain crisis. Among items under consideration are increasing drivers’ allowable hours on the road and expediting the issuance of commercial driver’s licenses.  

Like the trucking industry, customer warehouses are also grappling with worker shortages, resulting in longer turnaround times in terms of getting products onto shelves. 

“There is a significant bottleneck in our customers’ ability to unload the demand that they have,” said Darren Feld, president of J.B. Hunt’s intermodal unit, adding that shipping customers must “process supply chains more efficiently to achieve their goals.”