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Biden’s Truck Driver Outreach Aimed at Easing Supply Chain

December 16, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
Biden’s Truck Driver Outreach Aimed at Easing Supply Chain
Driver Shirley Gray (Photo Women in Trucking)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Thursday announced a plan to increase the number of commercial truck drivers in a bid to alleviate supply chain gridlock.

The plan includes assistance to state motor vehicle departments to issue more commercial licenses, increase apprenticeships and hire military veterans.

“This is the largest action the administration is taking to address supply chain blockages with a goal of reducing prices,” White House press spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing.

The American Trucking Associations says 80,000 truckers are needed to meet demand. According to the trade association, part of the problem lies with inefficiencies in the way the industry is organized.

A White House fact sheet says the Trucking Action Plan could resolve many of the problems.

“The Trucking Action Plan will cut red tape,” Jean-Pierre said.

It would address “longstanding workforce challenges in the trucking industry, including high turnover rates, an aging workforce, long hours away from home, and time spent waiting — often unpaid — to load and unload at congested ports, warehouses, and distribution centers,” the fact sheet says.

The American Trucking Associations pins part of the supply chain bottleneck on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the pandemic, record demand for goods and infrastructure shortfalls already created a shortage of about 61,500 drivers, according to the trucking associations. The pandemic compelled about 18,500 others to drop out of the industry because of illness or concerns about getting sick.

The U.S. trucking industry employs about 3.36 million drivers. In 2020, they carried 10.23 billion tons of freight, generating an estimated $732.3 billion in revenue, according to a trucking associations report.

Nevertheless, the backup of freight waiting to be imported at the nation’s biggest port in Los Angeles, California, is near record levels. Some container ships report waiting offshore for weeks to be unloaded.

For consumers, the result has been higher prices for food, clothing, cars and other common items.

President Joe Biden announced an agreement in October in which officials for the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles said they would shift to 24-hours-per-day operations.

Port officials say they are trying to abide by the agreement but a shortage of truck drivers and nighttime warehouse workers leaves them with few options for transferring freight from ships to trucks.

The Biden administration’s plan offers $30 million to speed up issuance of commercial driver’s licenses. It also lays out a job outreach effort to veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“There are approximately 70,000 veterans who are likely to have certified trucking experience in the last five years,” the White House fact sheet says.

The plan assigns the U.S. Labor Department to lead a three-month campaign to increase trucking apprenticeships. The Labor Department also is supposed to join with the Transportation Department to expand recruitment of drivers and to support industry employees in their relations with management.

In a Dec. 1 opinion article in The Detroit News, Teamsters President Jim Hoffa wrote that there “is no shortage of experienced truckers. However, there is a problem with these drivers getting fair pay and treatment from their employers.”

The official kickoff for the action plan was Thursday during a White House roundtable discussion between officials from the Labor Department, the Transportation Department and the National Economic Council.

In separate action, the $1 trillion infrastructure bill Biden signed last month includes a pilot apprenticeship program for drivers 18-21 years old. It also creates incentives to hire female truckers.

Tom can be reached at tom@thewellnews.com

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