In early September, to confront the stagnating vaccination rates in the country, President Joe Biden passed sweeping new vaccine mandates that affected roughly 100 million Americans in private industry and federal contracting. The most notable policy was that all private companies with more than 100 employees must mandate vaccination. Each industry has its own culture and openness to such federal mandates, but within the trucking industry – where I have spent the last 30 years – I can say that this 100 employee threshold could cause a problem in the supply chain.
In many ways, the trucking industry can be seen as a microcosm for how America adjusts to federally enforced mandates. While some industries are confined to some areas of the country – like films to California and agriculture to the Mid-West – the trucking industry spans every state every political ideology. Some drivers were already vaccinated before such mandates were announced, but many have no plans to get vaccinated.
The hard truth is that many of these obstinate, vaccine-hesitant individuals will not suddenly get a shot thanks to the government. According to the Wall Street Journal, more than 97% of trucking companies have under 20 trucks. Most vaccine-hesitant truckers at large fleets will much sooner change companies or find concessions that will allow them to avoid the vaccine.
The last time the industry faced a mandate was the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) Mandate in 2017. First used in the 1980s, ELDs were used to accurately log the distance and service time of industry vehicles. Their ultimate objective was to cut back on service violations, which led to less drowsy driving and safer roads. Over decades, proponents of these devices advocated for them to become implemented industry-wide, and in 2012 the law (called MAP-21) was passed by Congress that mandated ELDS within five years.
Once MAP-21 was passed, many trucking websites and social media accounts were full of drivers who publicly declared that they weren’t going to comply. Small trucking companies, in particular, thought that ELD enforcement prevented them from keeping up with larger companies. Some truckers threatened to leave the industry, and some actually did, but not enough to create a serious issue.
At the end of the day, the ELD mandate limited the driver’s ability to cheat. Truckers could no longer hide the number of hours our trucks were docked at a location, and inefficient docks were not charged for the extra time it took for them to ship cargo. After some initial growing pains, the industry adapted to this new environment over time, and ultimately, the industry became more efficient because of it. All points of the distribution chain – from truckers to docks to shipping – all were more accurately charged for the time they handled cargo.
This vaccine mandate is different though. While the ELD mandate gave drivers no practical alternative to adapting, this time there is. Drivers can simply leave a company above the threshold for one below it. For the driver – maybe they will lose a week of productivity while going through an orientation for the new company. Most companies will pay a driver during orientation. Given the competitive nature of driver recruitment, the driver does not have to even have a lag in benefits.
There is also a difference in politics. In 2012, MAP-21 was sponsored by three Republicans and signed into law by President Obama. There was no political momentum for opposition against the ELD mandate. Today, however, the politics surrounding vaccine mandates is rife with division, and truckers who are against vaccine mandates can find political support to their opposition.
As a 30-year veteran of the trucking industry, I can attest to the fact that a slight delay in our labor force could shut down production lines across the economy. Shutting down production lines creates problems not just for that facility, but for businesses that rely on that supply. Today’s economy is interconnected, and trucking is the glue.
Putting a threshold on the vaccine mandate would put companies above the threshold at a severe disadvantage. That could cause supply chain and safety issues. While I got vaccinated as soon as possible, and believe the vaccines to be safe and effective, I believe that it would be best to exempt the trucking industry from any mandate that includes a threshold.
Setting the mandate threshold at 100 employees will cause major issues. It will cause empty shelves. Trailers that are less safe and efficient will be forced on the road. I am fully vaccinated and encourage my fellow drivers to get vaccinated. This is just the wrong way to get that done.