American Trucking Associations has sent a letter to the Biden administration expressing “grave concern” over the potential damage that the president’s plans for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate could cause many businesses and trucking companies.
“While much of the country was sequestered in their homes, the trucking industry served its essential function and did so successfully with safety standards developed by public health experts,” said the Oct. 21 letter, signed by ATA President Chris Spear. “Now placing vaccination mandates on employers, which in turn force employees to be vaccinated, will create a workforce crisis for our industry and the communities, families and businesses we serve.”
As Transport Topics reports, the federation warns that motor carriers it represents – who it said supply 80% of the country and move 70% of all freight tonnage – could lose up to 37% of their drivers.
ATA says it supports the Administration’s goals of increased vaccination rates, but the rule “will have vast unintended consequences” and will “exacerbate the supply chain crisis” already underway.
The OSHA emergency temporary standard requiring companies with 100 or more employees to require their employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 has not yet been made public, but was reportedly sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review on Oct. 12.
“The U.S. is already facing unprecedented supply chain disruptions and delays due to many factors, including significant labor shortages, production shutdowns, a shortage of raw materials, and pent-up consumer demand,” ATA said. “…Our data shows that a vaccine mandate may very well further cripple the supply chain throughout the country by forcing up to 13% of drivers to leave the industry entirely.”
In considering potential strategies, the Transport Topics article referenced Canada’s own mandate for workers in federally regulated companies, which did not include truck drivers.
In Canada, the Canadian Trucking Alliance issued a statement urging Washington and Ottawa to work with the industry to reexamine appropriate mandate timelines for cross border truck drivers to comply with the US mandate while also developing a seamless, mutual system of identification for drivers to limit potential border delays when presenting their vaccination status at the border.
CTA conservatively estimates that 20 percent of Canadian truck drivers crossing the border (22,000), and 40 percent of US truck drivers (16,000), would almost immediately exit the Canada-US trade system should the vaccination mandate take effect in January 2022.
CTA fully expects the same vaccination requirement for US truck drivers travelling into Canada would apply if the US mandate were implemented.) The removal of tens of thousands of cross-border truck drivers would also compound the domestic driver shortage problem. Research by Trucking HR Canada shows that currently, even before any vaccination mandates takes effect, nearly 20,000 job vacancies for truck drivers in Canada remain unfilled.
ATA agrees, saying, that given the well-documented shortage of drivers and current stresses on the supply chain, the mandate would critically damage the supply chain in vast swaths of the U.S., significantly impeding the economic recovery, employment, and the holiday season right when retailers and families desperately need a functioning supply chain.
The letter also points out that the trucking industry and its partners have done a good job protecting drivers. The infection rate of employee drivers was 8.7%, compared to 13.2% for the U.S. population as a whole, according to ATA.
Those numbers and other indicators show that OHSA’s temporary rule would not stand legal scrutiny as an emergency public health problem. “This regulation cannot, then, lawfully be imposed on employers without an opportunity for notice and comment,” ATA said.
“Unfortunately, if the administration does not specifically address the concerns expressed in this letter, ATA will be forced to take additional action against the OSHA ETS (Emergency Temporary Standard) and possibly the government contractor mandate to protect our industry, our drivers’ livelihoods and the consumers in 80% of the country who depend on trucks exclusively to obtain the necessities of daily life like food, medicine, and fuel, as well as access to the vaccine,” ATA said. “We would much prefer to work with federal authorities to figure out how we can get more truck drivers voluntarily vaccinated, which would be good for public health and not cause additional harm to vital supply chains.”
ATA further said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates drivers and motor carriers already, would be better able to develop a regulatory system that “makes sense and ensures the best protection for our most valuable resource — the drivers.”
An additional problem with the mandate is that it could cause truck drivers who don’t want to get the vaccine to quit with one carrier, and move to another, according to Sullivan.
“The letter is a sincere attempt to get these issues in front of OMB, which we believe are in the final stages of review,” he added. “We really hope that this is as public as we need to be. But we also wanted to set the stage that if in fact they get it wrong, we anticipate participating in litigation, if we need to.”
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