President Joe Biden arrives between semitrucks parked on the South Lawn of the White House to speak about his administration's Trucking Action Plan at event Monday in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ting Shen/UPI | License Photo
April 4 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden on Monday vowed to remove roadblocks facing the trucking industry as part of his continuing efforts to restore the efficiency of bottlenecked U.S. supply chains.
In an event hosted with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and featuring semitrucks parked on the White House Lawn, Biden said that even though last year was the best on record for trucking job growth since 1994, he would continue to do more to help boost the industry as the country faces ongoing supply chain problems.
"You make it run, you literally make it run," he said while flanked by a group of truckers. "I have nothing against investment bankers, but they could all retire and nothing much would change. If you all quit, everything comes to a halt."
But, he added, "truck drivers are facing real challenges. The average driver waits 4 1/2 hours for their truck to be loaded and unloaded during an 11-hour shift -- and 40% of their day. And often, they don't get paid for that wait time."
Biden and Buttigieg detailed the administration's Trucking Action Plan, which is meant to address the shortage of truck drivers available to deliver goods nationwide. They said the plan, unveiled late last year, has already improved hiring and retention in the trucking industry between December and February.
The effort has reduced red tape in commercial driver's licensing that's allowed states to issue more than 876,000 such licenses since the start of 2021, they asserted while noting that 72% of all goods are moved across the United States via truckers.
Costs, however, have jumped by more than 20% because of a surge in demand caused by the pandemic and a drop-off in trucking employment that preceded the pandemic, driven by high turnover rates and low job quality in the industry.
"The industry estimates that we're short 80,000 truck drivers, and my department estimates that 300,000 leave the career every year," Buttigieg said. "So we must do more and do better to recruit more people into the job and to support them so they choose to stay in the job."
In a fact sheet distributed prior to the event, the administration noted that many truckers "are not directly employed and operate as independent small businesses, bearing the burden of leasing, gas, insurance and maintenance costs themselves. These financial burdens cause many to leave the profession."
In addition to higher trucking employment figures, the White House also touted wage gains, noting that truckers' real wages have risen in the last year despite quickly rising inflation, and pointed to bipartisan bill in Congress that aims to establish a refundable tax credit for commercial truck drivers.
The president on Monday also announced a "Day of Action" later this month to raise awareness and advocate for the prevention of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the trucking industry.
"We will call on industry to commit to actions to promote safe training and work environments including zero-tolerance policies for sexual assault, improving sexual harassment training, and more," the White House said.
The Transportation and Labor departments said they're coordinating on truck driver labor, employment and safety protections, which includes releasing new guidance and information for drivers about workplace rights and employers' obligations.