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Could Vaccine Requirements For Truck Drivers Blow Up US Supply Chain And Economy?

Could Vaccine Requirements For Truck Drivers Blow Up US Supply Chain And Economy?

truck vaccine

Two trucks are parked next to stacks of containers at the Port of Long Beach, Calif., Oct. 1, 2021. Hampered by rising covid-19 cases and persistent supply shortages, the U.S. economy slowed to a 2 percent annual rate in Q3, the weakest quarterly growth since the pandemic recession started in early 2020. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A lobbying association for truckload carriers warns that the new federal covid-19 vaccine mandate requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to be fully vaccinated, wear masks and submit to tests, will be “disastrous” for the already strained supply chain and it could ruin Christmas.

From manufactured goods to retail products, about 70 percent of all freight moved in the U.S. is moved by trucks.

A worker shortage across industries and high demand are causing delays in the supply chain as the U.S. economy tries to fully recover from the pandemic. Supply-chain disruptions across the U.S. and world are driving up prices and leading to a growing shortage of goods.

The truck driver shortage, now estimated at 80,000, didn’t start during the pandemic. Three years ago, the U.S. was short 61,000 drivers. The industry will need an estimated 1 million new drivers to replace retiring drivers within the next nine years, according to a new study by Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

President Joe Biden signed a vaccine mandate executive order in September requiring workers at companies with 100 employees or more to be vaccinated for covid-19 by Jan. 4, 2022 and receive their first shot by Dec. 8 or wear masks and be tested weekly. Biden also called for vaccine requirements for private businesses with more than 100 employees. Private employees, however, can opt out by submitting to testing.

Of the 700,000-plus registered motor carriers, 91 percent operate six or fewer trucks and 97.3 percent operate fewer than 20 trucks. The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) claims to represent the operators of 210,000 trucks — about 30 percent of the total — generating $38 billion-plus in annual truckload revenue, lobbying lawmakers in Washington, D.C. on members’ behalf.

“TCA repeatedly called on the administration to heed our warnings regarding this mandate’s impact on the already constrained supply chain,” TCA said in a notice on its website. “Yet they chose to proceed with a disastrous mandate which will undoubtedly ensure the trucking industry loses a substantial number of drivers. These are the drivers the country is relying upon to deliver food, fuel, and presents for the upcoming holiday season, yet our national leadership has decided these needs must go unmet.”

The average rate of vaccination among surveyed truck carriers was 50 percent as of September according to the American Trucking Associations. The ATA estimates that companies impacted by vaccine mandates could lose up to 37 percent of their drivers, according to a letter to the White House provided to Politico.

However, a White House official on the covid task force argued in an interview that the spread of covid-19 among unvaccinated employees — not the vaccine requirement — was among the biggest potential disruptions of services truck companies face.

Jeff Zients coordinates Biden’s covid-19 task force, overseeing everything the federal government does to tackle the virus, including managing the vaccine supply chain. Some truck industry advocates say they were encouraged by public comments from Zients, who offered reassurance that the mandate shouldn’t cause disruption to holiday services, Politico reported.

“We’re offering people multiple opportunities to get vaccinated. There is not a cliff here,” Zients said.

But federal contractors in the truck industry have asked the Biden administration to postpone the deadline or make an exemption for their employees. Some may decide that the cost of the mandate is not worth the government’s checks, ATA executive vice president for advocacy Bill Sullivan told Politico.

“This December 8 mandate comes at a time when the industry is already faced with a growing worker shortage — a shortage that is likely to expand if employees decide to quit or retire rather than become vaccinated,” wrote Stephen Alterman, president of the Cargo Airline Association, in an email obtained by Politico.

The Biden administration says it has built in plenty of latitude in enforcing the new vaccine mandates rules to ensure there’s no disruption during the holiday season. The government is allowing businesses to impose their own enforcement measures with employees who refuse to be vaccinated. 

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