Spokane Journal of Business

Guest Commentary: Truckers rolling on amid ranks of unsung heroes

Behind the scenes …

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As we get deeper into the COVID-19 pandemic, we are finding more Americans to thank. Until recently, truckers have been behind the scenes just doing their jobs, but as shoppers learn how groceries and necessities reappeared on shelves, they join the list of unsung heroes.

Business Insider reported truckers are the reason America’s grocery stores, online retailers, hospitals, gas stations, and even ATMs have remained stocked. They number 1.9 million. It’s estimated that grocery stores would be empty within two or three days if truck drivers stopped working.

According to the American Trucking Association, trucks moved over 70% of freight tonnage, hauled nearly $800 billion in merchandise, and employed 7.8 million people throughout our economy in 2018.

When the pandemic shut down our nation, there were unprecedented layoffs, furloughs, and business closures. People were told to stay home and work remotely; however, truck drivers were told to hit the road as the pandemic created panic buying and hoarding.

In the race to restock shelves, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration immediately suspended hours-of-service regulations for truck drivers. They can operate longer when hauling certain loads needed to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. Last week, the agency extended that waiver and now also exempts fuel, alcohol for hand sanitizers and disinfectants, and raw materials to make toilet paper, masks, and gloves.

Interestingly, when restaurants in most states closed, so did eateries at truck stops. It was further complicated because of social distancing rules. Drivers couldn’t park their big rigs and walk up to the drive-thru windows to get food.

David Hollis, columnist at Commercial Carrier Journal, wrote, “Finding food on the road has proven to be one of the more disconcerting problems wrought by the COVID-19 coronavirus—one that drivers complain about the most.”

CCJ interviewed Jim Nicholson, vice president of Loadsmart. “We’re seeing more and more facilities not allowing drivers to leave their cab for any reason.” Shippers and receivers have instituted a “mixed bag of protocols” regarding social distancing. In most cases, that means “fewer options for breaks, restrooms, and interactions” for drivers.

Business Insider has been sharing how jobs have changed since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. Many truckers shared they’re terrified.

“There are many concerns being 3,000 miles from home,” Todd Hogan, a driver for a midsized food trucking company, told Business Insider. “What happens if I get sick with COVID-19? Will I ever see my family again?”

At its core, the American Trucking Association says it’s an industry of small businesses. Ninety percent of U.S. motor carriers have fewer than six trucks. It’s vitally important to the health of America’s supply lines that small and midsize carriers have the resources they need to withstand this storm.

“There’s one thing all Americans can do right now: Thank a trucker,” the association concludes. “Especially during trying times like these. Because without them, the disruptions we’re experiencing would be something much, much worse.”

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer, and retired president of the Association of Washington Business. He now lives in Vancouver, Washington, and can be reached at theBrunells@msn.com.

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