The current driver shortage affects every mode of trucking, port drayage included. What you may not realize, however, is that this shortage of drayage drivers is not new – it didn’t begin with COVID-19 or even in the years leading up to the pandemic. In this article, we’ll examine the reasons for the truck driver shortage among drayage drivers and tell you why your transportation provider’s culture is key to sourcing the capacity you need.
Why is there a shortage of drayage drivers?
The short answer to this question lies in supply and demand. There are simply more products that need to be drayed than there are port drivers to dray them. Some of the reasons for this are similar to reasons for the driver shortage in general, while others are more specific to drayage drivers.
- Reduced reliance on undocumented workers. In the latter part of the 20th century, undocumented workers made up a substantial part of the drayage driver workforce – especially at the Ports of L.A. and Long Beach, the busiest ports in the country. After the 9/11 tragedy, however, security measures were tightened, and drivers were required to have a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC®) in order to access the nation’s ports. As most undocumented workers did not have the identification to undergo the requisite background checks, they could not obtain TWIC cards and were thus unable to work at the ports – eliminating a large pool of drivers from dray work.
- Environmental regulations priced out independent contractors. Smaller, independent truck drivers who owned their tractors would traditionally contract their services to larger shippers and carriers. Over time, states like California began issuing environmental regulations (e.g., the state’s Truck and Bus Rule) that meant that only newer, reduced-emissions trucks could register with the state’s DMV. Many independent contractors relied on older, environmentally-unfriendly equipment and could not afford the newer trucks or the Diesel Particulate Filters (DPF) needed to comply with the new environmental rules. The result was that many of these independent contractors left the business altogether.
- California Supreme Court decision increased the risk of hiring contractors. For many years, state labor groups such as the Teamsters have argued that “independent” drivers – especially drayage drivers – should be deemed employees of the carriers they work for instead of independent contractors. The issue came to a head in April 2018 with the California Supreme Court’s Decision in the Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles The Court ruled that – in class action cases involving classification – workers should be presumed to be employees. State Senate Bill 1402 (or SB 1402) then established the creation of a public list of carriers who have misclassification-related judgments against them. Shippers who do business with a carrier on this list will be held jointly liable for wages and/or damages the carrier owes to its drivers. All of this has made hiring independent contractors a risky proposition and has caused many shippers to turn away from them, thereby reducing their driver pools.
- The trucking industry faces general labor challenges. A primary cause of the driver shortage is that older drivers are retiring and there aren’t enough younger drivers to replace them. According to a report from the American Trucking Associations in 2019, the average age of a truck driver is 46 and the average age of a new driver in training is 35. The industry has struggled to get younger people and women (who make up just 6.6% of truckers) interested in trucking and continues to face heavy competition from other industries such as construction and warehousing. On the plus side, drayage driving may be more attractive to prospective drivers as they get to be home every day (as opposed to long-haul drivers who may be gone for days or weeks at a time).
- The impact of COVID-19 has affected drayage drivers. In addition to the common employment effects of COVID – e.g., missed time due to illness or exposure as well as childcare and family responsibilities – there have been specific ramifications for the drayage industry. At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, imports from China were halted and then took a while to get back up to speed. During that 3- or 4-month span, there was much less freight moving through the port and thus less work for drayage drivers. These drivers still had to earn a living and so some transitioned into long-haul driving or other types of work like warehousing and have yet to come back to drayage, even as import volumes have gone into hyperdrive.
The answer to capacity challenges = culture
Now that you understand how we got to where we currently are with the drayage driver shortage, you still have freight coming into port and you need it to move. So, what do you look for in a drayage provider to ensure that it can get the job done?
The answer – as trite as it may sound – is culture. Without drivers, goods don’t move. And without a solid company culture, a carrier can’t attract and keep drivers. That’s why you need to look closely at the driver retention rate of your drayage carrier partner and whether it has a company culture that is likely to sustain a stable corps of drivers. If it does, it follows that such a provider will be better able to service your freight now and in the future.
Some key questions to ask of your provider include the following.
- Does the provider hire its own workers or solely rely on independent contractors (which, again, is a risky proposition in many parts of the country)?
- Does the provider pay its drivers a fair wage that is commensurate with industry rates?
- Does the provider provide medical, sick time and vacation benefits to its drivers?
- Does the provider have newer, cleaner, and more comfortable trucks and equipment?
These are the things that matter to drivers and so they should matter to you as you look for a provider. If your provider offers these and similar perks, it likely has a driver-friendly culture that people want to be part of. It also means that the provider may be more successful in luring drivers away from other modes of trucking to handle drayage.
At Weber Logistics, we understand that our employees are the lifeblood of our organization. We can’t do anything without them, and we go to great lengths to keep them happy and engaged in their profession. This means doing the small things, as well as offering the bigger benefits described above.
For instance, drayage driving can be a real grind with hours spent sitting still at ports or in highway traffic. We understand this. So, when a driver comes in from a long, hard day of work and needs to vent, our dispatch team is there to listen. It’s little things like this that make all the difference between happy and unhappy drivers.
To learn more about Weber Logistics’ culture and the lengths we go to attract and retain drivers to support your business, contact us today.