Mandated Vaccines May Increase Driver Shortage
As the fight against Covid-19 continues, vaccination remains a hot-button topic for carrier companies. Despite the CDC’s insistence that the vaccines are safe and effective, mandatory vaccination requirements risk exacerbating an already-existent driver shortage.
While the first vaccination rollout was largely successful, with the CDC claiming there were over 4 million vaccines administered in April alone, the rise of the Delta variant threatens the progress made by those vaccines.
The Delta variant is more contagious than the initial strain, and the number of positive test results has grown by 7% since the beginning of summer. This worrying trend is likely to continue, as only 50% of adult Americans are fully vaccinated as of the beginning of August 2021.
As a result, many companies unveiled new vaccination and Covid prevention protocols, with some companies even mandating vaccination for continued employment. While some are exempt from the requirements, namely religious beliefs or have a qualifying disability, workers are increasingly facing accepting a vaccination or leaving their jobs.
If you’re located in a state with at-will employment, there may be little else you can do about it.
Massive Turnover in Trucking
An exodus of qualified drivers spells trouble for a sector like long-haul trucking, which is already susceptible to incredibly high turnover.
Recent pay raises in the industry were thought to bring about more drivers and unintended negative consequences.
Despite pay increasing by more than 40% in some cases, there aren’t more drivers on the road, and the ones that are still there are driving less than they were before.
When you’re a truck driver, especially a long-haul driver, you experience long stretches of solitude. You’re away from your family and friends for sometimes weeks at a time, and that begins to wear on you.
The pay raises allow these truck drivers to spend more time at home, improving their work-life balance without forcing them to sacrifice monetarily.
Another factor driving turnover in the trucking industry is the increased demand for local delivery drivers. The pandemic necessitated online shopping, and as enterprises moved to meet the new demands, they needed more delivery drivers.
These new opportunities saw many career truck drivers leaving their positions at long-haul companies to pursue these local routes, another way of affording themselves more time at home while working in a demanding industry.
A History of the Shortage
The talk of a driver shortage isn’t necessarily news in the trucking industry. The American Trucking Association (ATA) first reported the deficit in 2005 and continued to monitor the trend.
In 2019, the ATA published a report with a relatively grim outlook. They deduced that over 1 million new drivers would need to be hired by 2028 to overcome the deficit in drivers.
One of the chief reasons for the shortage, according to their report, was the advanced age of the average driver. At 46 years old, truck drivers are on average older than many other industries, and replacing them as they retire has been a sizable challenge.
For this reason, the ATA pushes to lower the legal age for interstate transit. Currently, you have to be 21 to carry freight over state lines, but the ATA wants that reduced to 18 to make trucking an attractive career for those just leaving high school.
Another factor behind the driver shortage is the industry’s lack of female drivers. Despite representing almost half of the workforce, women account for only 6.6% of truck drivers.
The cause of this discrepancy is up for debate and is likely the result of a combination of many factors. Still, the fact remains that this demographic is under-represented in trucking.
In 2021, this shortage again gained national attention, as truckers are an indispensable part of the supply chain in the Covid-affected economy.
Can Truck Drivers be Forced to get Vaccinated?
It’s the question on many truckers’ minds, but the answer depends entirely on their unique circumstances.
Those who reside in states with at-will employment, meaning an employee can be relieved of their job duties for any reason their employer sees fit, are most likely to be forced to get the mandated vaccine.
In those states, employees are accountable to any policy designed to keep the workforce safe, much like they can be made to wear masks and adhere to quarantine guidelines.
If their employer deems a vaccination is a requirement, they can be forced to comply to keep their jobs.
There are only eight states that do not participate in at-will employment. They are:
- New York
- Rhode Island
However, a union presence may be a minor roadblock to mandatory vaccination. The employer would have to negotiate a deal with the union before a mandated vaccine would be required.
Owner-operators have a little more latitude when it comes to vaccinations. An owner-operator can’t be forced to get a mandated vaccine against their wishes, but their business relationships may be negatively impacted if they opt against it.
Of course, those with a disability or those with religious aversions can never be forced to vaccinate.
A truck driver who refuses vaccination may be put on leave without pay, and in some cases, be looking at changing employers or careers.
However, many companies won’t outright fire you if you don’t accept the mandated vaccines. While they may be legal, it opens the door for litigation and puts a strain on an already-dwindling workforce.
Should Companies Institute Mandatory Vaccination?
With only half of the U.S. fully vaccinated and many companies within their rights to implement it, it stands to reason that some form of mandatory vaccination is inevitable in many places.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
One factor to consider is a workplace’s acceptance of the idea of vaccination. One poll of essential workers found that 56% would accept the vaccine, but only 50% of workers in transportation would consider getting it.
A divided workplace isn’t good for productivity or employee retention, and with the high turnover rate in trucking, giving workers a reason to leave isn’t something that’s seen as palatable.
With so few qualified truckers searching for jobs, replacing workers that leave is a massive undertaking. It impacts profit margins, delays deliveries, and could result in ruined business relationships.
However, not implementing a mandated vaccines could be seen by proponents as not taking the virus seriously.
Employees need to feel their employers are looking out for their best interests and are doing everything that can be done in the name of safety. It also increases the likelihood of exposure, resulting in more cases and more health issues.
It’s a slippery slope with no genuinely correct answer.
What Can be Done?
According to those in the industry, the way forward is to recognize the benefits of vaccination, educate employees about their safety and effectiveness, and strongly encourage that an employee gets vaccinated as soon as possible.
Of course, this is easier said than done. It does, however, represent the best of both worlds.
Without a mandatory vaccination policy, a company doesn’t lose employees over disagreements in vaccine policy or expose itself to litigation regarding mandated vaccines, but encouraging it demonstrates their commitment to the health and safety of their employees.
You should expect many trucking companies to pursue this course of action, as leaders will want to do something proactive in the face of this continuing health crisis.
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