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Supply chains: What's behind the trucking industry’s driver shortage

Accountable.US Executive Director Tony Carrk sits down with Yahoo Finance Live to talk about ongoing supply chain disturbances, forecasts for future truck driver shortages, trucker wages and work conditions, in addition to commenting on the Canadian trucker convoy.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: It's estimated that the US is short some 80,000 truck drivers. That's a record high. But those behind the big rigs say they're not to blame for the supply chain mess. Yahoo Finance's Dani Romero joining us now with a special guest. Dani.

DANI ROMERO: Thanks, Alexis. Yeah, we're joined by Tony Carkk, executive director at accountable.US, and he's going to talk to us about a new report that shows how the trucking industry is profiteering off the supply chain mess, while blaming-- while playing the blame game on the driver shortage. Thank you so much, Tony, for joining us.

TONY CARRK: Thank you so much for having me.

DANI ROMERO: So let's talk about this report. What led to the findings? And what are the biggest takeaways from this report?

TONY CARRK: Sure, so here at Accountable, we've been doing-- we've been looking at several industries involving how they're reacting to the pandemic. And what we're finding is that prices are increasing a lot, but what we're finding is that corporate greed can explain a lot of the reason why prices are going up. For example, we did some work in the meatpacking industry and oil and gas industry, showing how prices are going up for consumers. Meanwhile, they're raking in record profits.

But we decided to take a look at the trucking industry as well because that's obviously a major contributor to the supply chain. And what we found is similar to what we found for those other industries, is that the big trucking companies are posting record profits. They're saying that they're in the most profitable position that they have been in history, in some cases. Meanwhile, what we're seeing is that the prices are going up for average consumers. And we're not seeing any improvement for the working conditions for truckers themselves.

DANI ROMERO: So and to that point, you know, there seems to be a lot of finger pointing when it comes to the supply chain mess. And the most common one is the shortage of truck drivers, right? Is it that we still need more drivers? Because I've spoken to some truck drivers out at the Port of LA, as well as Long Beach. And they say that they're willing to work. And also another thing is that most of them are contract drivers. So what's the holdup? What needs to change in the trucking industry?

TONY CARRK: Right, well, I think that you raise a couple-- several key points, that truckers themselves are willing to work, but that-- but we're not addressing sort of the problems that have been in the trucking industry that even predated the pandemic. I mean, if you look at the wages for the median salary for truck drivers in the last 40 years, they have been cut in half. So we have the pay is not keeping pace. There's a lot of companies that are misclassifying their workers as independent contractors versus employees, which is something that you just addressed, but also just the working conditions.

I think to make it more attractive for people to come into trucking, I think, yes, we do need to have more truckers because 72% of domestic goods are sent-- are brought by truck. So it is a huge, vital part of the economy. It's a huge, vital part of keeping the supply chains working. And we need to address these persistent problems that have been occurring long before the pandemic, but obviously, the pandemic exacerbated it.

DANI ROMERO: I wanted to shift gears just a little bit and talk about the fallout with the hundreds of truck drivers protesting in Canada over the vaccine mandates. Do you think it's done? Do you think the tactics are working.

TONY CARRK: I don't know all the particulars of what's going on with the Canadian trucker protesting. I do know that there are some similarities, but I think there are a lot of key differences between what is going on here in the United States versus in Canada. I do know that some of the big trucking associations or the people that are representing the truckers have come out against what's been going on in Canada. But again, I don't know if I can say enough, that I know enough about the Canadian experience. I would say that they said that it started over vaccine mandates, but which is something that is not part of what's going on in the United States.

DANI ROMERO: Got it, and, you know, I wanted, again, to shift gears back to some of these policies, specifically in California. I've spoken with some truck drivers out here, like I said, at the Port of Long Beach and Los Angeles. And California has that truck and bus regulation, which they attempt to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, as well as diesel exhaust. And this policy has been in the books since 2008.

But like I said, I spoke with a truck driver, and they said-- one of these truck drivers told me that there's a pressure for them to buy a newer big rig, and that they would have to split-- you know, split the bill on it. Would we see more impacts on that? I think that brings-- you know, because that's something that hasn't really been shown, right, that these big rigs in certain states write their policies that they might have to buy a new big rig in that regards. Would you see drivers, if that's the case, leave the industry because of that, because they have to flip the bill on a big new rig?

TONY CARRK: Again, I'm not sure. I think there are a lot of factors that are contributing to what's going on in the trucking industry. But what we've outlined in the report is basically what's been happening with trucker pay over the last four decades. I know that there are other conditions that truckers are looking to have make improvements, like where they can park. And obviously, it's just a really-- it's a vital job, but you're going to be spending long hours away from your family and on the road. So there's obviously some things that people need to address with that.

I would say, though, just to go back to what the report said, is that the big trucking companies here are charging higher prices, which then get passed on to consumers. But they're using the higher prices that they're getting not to improve conditions here, but to also do more corporate buybacks and to increase profits. So we think that everyone should sort of work together to solve these problems, that it's not just going to be one thing or another.

DANI ROMERO: Thanks so much, Tony Carkk, executive director at Accountable.US. Thank you again for joining us, and I'm going to toss it back to Alexis.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, thanks a lot, Dani Romero. Appreciate it.