OOIDA president breaks down why 'driver shortage is a myth'

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line associate editor | Thursday, October 25, 2018

It’s nothing new that the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is calling the idea of a driver shortage a myth.

However, the Association recently released a video featuring OOIDA President Todd Spencer that explains why.

“Those that perpetuate the notion of a driver shortage ask you to believe that basic laws of supply and demand simply don’t work,” Spencer said. “They say we’ve got a shortage, but if there’s a shortage in anything, it will be reflected in the price or value of that particular service. Incomes for drivers adjusted for inflation going back to 1980 would be twice what they are right now or more if they had just kept pace with inflation.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay for truck drivers was $42,480 in 2017. Many are making less than that despite working long hours in a job that requires skill and being away from home for days or weeks at a time while dealing with an abundance of regulations.

Last week, a federal court in Arkansas ruled that truck drivers should be paid at least minimum wage for every hour they work, including the hours spent waiting in the sleeper berth.

“Demand and responsibilities for drivers have increased, but pay has not kept up by any stretch of the imagination,” Spencer said.

“It’s unacceptable that carriers pay drivers the equivalent of less than minimum wage and then complain about a so-called driver shortage.”

The American Trucking Associations has claimed that there is a driver shortage of more than 50,000 and that the shortage could increase to about 160,000 in 10 years. In order to tackle the issue, ATA has called for the minimum driving age for truck drivers in interstate commerce to be reduced from 21 to 18.

OOIDA counters by saying that the problem is the large fleets’ inability or disinterest in retaining truck drivers. According to an ATA report released in October, the driver turnover rate for large truckload fleets is at 98 percent. Meanwhile, there are 449,000 new entry-level CDL holders and 98,000 reinstatements every year, according to statistics from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

“Clearly, the numbers don’t show any kind of shortage,” Spencer said. 

“Those who talk about shortage are interested in having new people simply because they will pay them a starter wage, and they will pay them a starter wage. They’ll keep their costs down. We see that play out in the turnover numbers. Sometimes, people don’t even make it past the first couple of months. But the vast majority of people who enter for-hire trucking as a real profession, they are gone within a year.”

Spencer said many large trucking companies are fine with this, because they remain profitable.

“You can be profitable in trucking even with 100 percent turnover as we see all the time. It’s a crazy way to do business. No other business would be like that. It sacrifices a whole lot of things, not the least of which is highway safety.”

The video of Spencer talking about the industry’s perceived driver shortage is about 3-and-a-half minutes long. But if you want to hear even more of Spencer’s takes on the issue, you can watch his appearances on the Fox Business show Varney & Co.

“We’ve been hearing about a truck driver shortage for about 30 years now,” Spencer said during his appearance on July 3. “The same people say it over and over. Of course, what they’re really talking about is that they’re not able to retain people because pay and benefits aren’t adequate. They’re plenty adequate to attract them, but they’re not adequate enough to keep them. So they continually say it’s a shortage.”

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