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Driver Shortages Getting Much Needed Attention: Tom’s Takes

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Over the past few years, the pandemic has continued to shrink an already-tightened driver pool, as many drivers have left the industry during the pandemic and there were far fewer new drivers trained in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. In addition to the pandemic, the driver shortage has been perpetuated by a myriad of factors such as a high average age of drivers, lack of gender diversity, a federally mandated minimum age of 21 to drive commercially across stateliness and more. The American Trucking Association (ATA) estimates that the driver shortage capped at 80,000 drivers in 2021 and that at current trends, the shortage could surpass 160,000 in 2030. As such bottlenecks within the supply chain industry are felt by consumers, more attention is being turned towards mitigating the shortage.

The White House Announces “Trucking Action Plan”

At a White House-sponsored event on April 4, President Biden, along with the Labor and Transportation Secretaries, touted their “Trucking Action Plan” to strengthen America’s Trucking Workforce, with one of its key goals being to add drivers through company and industry-sponsored driver apprenticeship training programs. American Trucking Association (ATA) CEO and President, Chris Spear, cited the need for an additional 80,000 commercial truck drivers to meet the U.S. economy’s ever-growing needs.

Retailers Implement Training Programs and Wage Increases

As the nation’s largest retailer, Walmart needs 12,000 drivers to keep up with its demand. Walmart recently announced its driver recruiting strategy, which includes increasing the wages for new drivers from $95,000 to $110,000 in their first year, depending on experience. The Walmart Private Fleet Development Program will provide CDL licensing to supply chain professionals who complete a 12-week training course.

Tom’s Take: Similar to the warehouse worker shortages and high turnover rates across the U.S., there is a need to recruit new drivers to keep the economy running on all cylinders, as ~72 percent of all goods in the U.S. are transported by the trucking industry. Increased pay, benefits and scheduling improvements are three key areas that can help address driver recruiting and retention issues.”

Unionization Vote Update    

In my inaugural edition of Tom’s Takes, I mentioned an increase in unionization interest and the union votes at two Amazon fulfillment centers with an apparent win and a loss for each side.

In Bessemer, AL, the facility completed its second vote in March and has again voted not to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The results this time showed a much closer vote with 993 votes against and 875 for the union. There are still over 400 contested ballots to be reviewed, which could still result in a union win and are expected to be resolved in the next several weeks.

In the Staten Island facility, the newly formed Amazon Labor Union (ALU) won with 55 percent of the vote opting to be represented by the ALU. Amazon is contesting the results of the vote with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) citing 25 objections to the voting process. Amazon has until April 22, to provide additional evidence supporting the objections to the NLRB. 

Tom’s Take: “With this being the first win for union representation in a U.S.-based Amazon fulfillment center, Amazon will surely pursue all legal challenges to ensure the voting was not suppressed nor influenced by the ALU or NLRB at the Staten Island (JFK8) Fulfillment Center. I will continue to follow these two cases and provide additional insight as to how this could affect the broader distribution industry and the headwinds companies face with recruiting, retaining and compensating today’s distribution center workforce.”

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