American truckers don’t like taking orders. But the Biden administration has increased pressure on them to take the vaccine—willing or unwilling.
All through the pandemic, truckers endured hardships to keep America’s infrastructure running. They waited in line for hours in sight of bathrooms they weren’t allowed to use. On the road, some died alone of COVID-19.
Now, with supply chains disrupted, Americans need them more than ever.
But faced with the prospect of a forced vaccination, many drivers are considering quitting.
“I’d fight it,” said veteran trucker Mike Widdins, referring to vaccine mandates.
“I think a lot of us will be quitting. Who likes to be forced to do stuff you don’t want to do?”
Widdins isn’t alone in his willingness to leave trucking if forced to vaccinate. Polls by trucking publications Commercial Carrier Journal and OverDrive indicate that up to 30 percent of truckers will seriously consider quitting if forced to vaccinate. If they quit, the consequences for America may be massive. US Transport estimates that 70 percent of American freight goes by truck.
“It would hurt shipping big-time,” Widdins said.
The Sept. 9 mandate establishes an “emergency standard” which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is allowed to issue if it determines workers are in “grave danger.” Currently, the White House Office of Budget and Management’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is reviewing the mandate. The review process can take as long as 90 days.
Most of the trucking industry will be unaffected by the Biden vaccine mandate, which demands that all companies with over 100 employees require vaccination or weekly COVID-19 tests.
Most truck companies have six trucks or fewer, according to the American Trucking Associations. Independent drivers make an average of $50,000 more per year than drivers at large companies.
Some experts say the selective reach of the mandate makes it ineffective. Barbara Smithers, vice president of the Indiana Motor Truck Association, told The Epoch Times via email that it makes little sense to “cherry pick” who to vaccinate based on company size.
“Truck drivers spend most of their work hours alone in the cab of a truck—literally one of the safest places possible during a pandemic—so why do they need to be regulated in this way?” she said.
“Testing hundreds of thousands of truck drivers moving across the country every day is a virtual impossibility.”
For mandate-affected companies, Biden’s decision may drive away employees at a time when America needs them most. The American Trucking Associations estimates that America needs 80,000 more truckers to meet transportation needs.
Recently, supply chain crises have left many Americans in need. Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg said the shortage will last as long as there’s a pandemic.
With backups unloading goods at America’s ports, shortages already threaten consumers. But if long lines of trucks waiting to ship goods suddenly become shorter, the crisis will become far worse.
Whether America runs short on trucks depends on the Biden administration’s orders and how truckers respond.
Joe Trucker and Joe Biden
The average trucker is a big, bearded guy with a sturdy, American name like ‘Joe.’
Joe Trucker is friendly given the chance, and he thinks of his job as his little service to America. He has a relative in the military somewhere, or he served himself. Toward government, he holds a strong suspicion that increases the more pressure he feels from it.
Joe Trucker doesn’t usually like interviews. If he doesn’t feel open to talking, he drops four-word answers like he tosses peanut shells from his window. In exchange for long hours away from home, he gets low pay, independence, and the nation’s best sunsets.
The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus hasn’t been kind to Joe Trucker. At a time when many Americans hunkered down at home, he was still on the road.
Trucking life during the pandemic was a series of frustrating restrictions, said trucker Victor Morales at a Georgia One9 truck stop.
Morales has driven trucks for 25 years.
After a long day on the road, Morales would wait for hours to drop off a truckful of deliveries at a warehouse. But warehouse owners didn’t allow truckers to leave their cabs for any reason.
“You’re almost forced, like a second-class citizen,” he said.
“They want the goods and services you got, but they don’t even want you to get out of your truck.”
If they arrived hungry, they waited hungry, he said. They weren’t even allowed to use the toilet only steps away.
“You can literally see a bathroom right there behind the glass. But you can’t get out,” said Morales.
In the eyes of drivers, Biden’s mandate is the last step in a long line of restrictions that don’t consider their needs or wants.
“It’s unconstitutional,” said one trucker who preferred to remain anonymous. “We’ll just buy our own damn trucks and run our own company. All we’ve got to do is shut down and the country doesn’t exist no more.”
For many drivers, the vaccine mandate may prove the final straw. Some drivers don’t trust the vaccine because of how new it is. Some distrust it for personal medical reasons. Others distrust it because they don’t trust the government.
“I had cancer years ago,” said trucker Jack McGregory. “I don’t want to put something that I don’t know exactly what it will do into my body. If I die, I want to die with a little more time on my hands than that.”
McGregory said that he would rather quit than vaccinate.
But even those who take the vaccine say they oppose the mandate.
At the Pilot Truck Stop at I-69 and Wadhams Road in Michigan, all 10 truckers interviewed by The Epoch Times said they took the vaccine but oppose a vaccine mandate.
Kevin Hambrick, a longtime driver with Fortune 500 transportation company J.B. Hunt, opposes the mandate.
“Each guy should make his own choice,” Hambrick said.
In Arizona, Florida-based truck driver Juan Martinez said that he knows life without freedom, having lived under Cuban communism. He also received a COVID-19 shot and opposes the mandate.
“You have to decide for yourself,” he said. “People should do whatever they want to do.”
Many drivers feel pressured by their employers. After a year of difficult pandemic restrictions, it seems to them that COVID-19 rules grow ever more invasive.
In Flagstaff, Arizona, a long-distance truck driver in his late 20s asked not to be identified, fearing reprisal by his employer.
“There’s no place in the middle right now,” he said, adding “if you want to put something in your body, it’s your personal choice.”
Other truckers who did not want to be named said they felt angry at those who mandated the vaccine.
“We run our country,” one said. “They don’t give a [expletive] about this country.”
Roads to Health
According to the Biden administration, America needs the new vaccine to increase protection against the CCP virus.
“The vast majority of Americans are doing the right thing,” president Joe Biden said in a press conference. But more people should get vaccinated, he added.
The current available vaccines block COVID-19 in most cases, according to CDC statistics.
Today, 79 percent of Americans over 18 are vaccinated, according to the CDC. Experts say that this number might be enough to achieve herd immunity. But as the number of unvaccinated people has dwindled, pressure to increase vaccination numbers has increased.
“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin,” Biden said to unvaccinated people. “Your refusal has cost all of us.”
Some medical experts say clusters of unvaccinated people allow the virus to mutate into a form that can bypass the vaccine.
“It’s perhaps just a matter of time,” University of Alabama at Birmingham medicine professor Dr. Michael Saag said. “A new variant could emerge where we won’t be so fortunate, and the existing vaccines won’t work.”
Another recent executive order suggested that the White House fears a truck shortage.
On Oct. 20, Biden announced an executive order that temporarily lifts weight restrictions on trucks and encourages more people to become truckers. The White House announced this order soon after the vaccine mandate.
Neither the White House nor the Department of Transportation responded to repeated requests for comment on this story.
Truck industry experts say that truckers with the option to quit will do so if forced to take the vaccine.
Joe Sculley, the president of Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said that he sees a scenario playing out for those who oppose or refuse to comply with the mandate.
“Drivers will leave bigger companies and look for smaller ones that do not have to comply with the mandate, or they will quit altogether and look for another profession,” he said.
Right now, the supply chain crisis, the number of drivers who oppose forced vaccination, and the driver shortage leave the best cards in the hands of drivers, Sculley added.
“Drivers have leverage,” he said. “It won’t be an empty threat. Nobody is going to be quickly replaced.”
Jim Ward, president of D.M. Bowman and Chairman of the Truckload Carriers Associations, agreed that truckers are serious about quitting because of vaccine mandates.
“With driver availability already limited, any exodus due to compliance with a vaccine mandate would put our nation and its economy in an even more precarious situation,” he said.
Ward added that drivers who quit can’t easily be replaced. They require training.
“Our nation’s professional truck drivers are the safest, most well-trained operators on the road today. Replacing any driver who leaves the industry is not an overnight process,” he said.
Biden’s best chance to bring in new drivers comes from a pilot program in his recent infrastructure bill. The program would create a “test group” of 18- to 21-year-olds who would be followed to “see how they would perform,” Sculley said.
However, the American trucking industry has long faced a driver shortage. Long hours away from home and mediocre pay doesn’t attract new drivers to the business, even when they have the right skills.
New workers also might not compare with longtime professionals. Experienced truckers thread their trucks through a complex ballet of traffic conditions and federal regulations to arrive on time.
Football games, the Kentucky Derby, hurricanes two states over, and other issues can all mean higher traffic along a route, said Morales.
“I’m not a sports fan. But I know when the playoffs are,” he said.
If Biden’s mandate goes through, the most experienced truckers are most likely to quit, Morales said.
In 10 years, nearly 30 percent of truckers will be 65 or older, according to Department of Transportation statistics. Often, these drivers make more money and have cash saved up, said Morales.
“The mandate is going to affect the older drivers that have been here a while,” he said. “They’re gonna have a choice.”
If these drivers retire early, it will be a challenge to replace them. To become a trucker, a driver must pass his commercial driver’s license (CDL) test, a process which usually takes four to seven weeks. During the pandemic, many truck driving schools closed, and training schools issued at least 100,000 fewer CDLS.
Short-term truckers are often unreliable, said small truck company owner Pete Falkenstern. He calls them “cowboys.”
“If somebody’s done it for a long time and hasn’t had a lot of accidents, they’ve been pretty safe,” he said. “They probably take some pride in what they do.”
If 20 percent of truckers quit because of the mandate, America will lose about 15 percent of its transportation capacity.
America’s infrastructure relies most on trucks. As a transportation system, trucks are incredibly flexible. They can go anywhere at any time, can carry many kinds of goods, and are the most cost-effective form of transportation over short to medium distances.
“I love this industry, but without us this country would shut down in three days,” said trucker Jack McGregory.
Even so, the trucking industry has a high turnover rate.
The vaccine mandate will only directly affect companies with over 100 people, but small truck companies won’t have the required resources to absorb many additional drivers, Falkenstern said.
“I would love to be able to accommodate 30 people, but the work is not here to support that many,” he said. “I don’t want to operate any more than what I have because of insurance regulations.”
Large truck companies also tend to be cheaper, said Falkenstern. They can buy things in bulk and self-insure.
“A lot of the bigger companies can keep prices down,” he said. “They can get a lower cost because it’s in bulk.”
Cathy Roberson, the founder and president of Logistics Trends and Insights LLC, said it’s unclear right now what the long-term impact of the vaccine mandate will be.
If truckers quit, the mandate could damage America’s logistics system, Robertson said. But if they switch to smaller companies, Biden’s executive order might only reshuffle employees.
“It really hurts the larger trucking companies more than anything else,” Robertson said.
Whatever the case, the mandate will exacerbate current supply chain issues, she said.
Already, logistics workers wrestle with the worst supply chain issues ever seen, said Lisa Anderson, the president of logistics group LMA Consulting.
“It’s unprecedented. It’s never happened before,” she said.
Right now, logistics issues have made it difficult to find replacement parts for trucks, she said. Businesses find themselves in a catch-22 situation; To fix their trucks, they need trucks to transport parts. The supply chain feeds itself.
Anderson said the vaccine mandate will almost certainly worsen the driver shortage. Truckers are independent-natured.
“They are more of a lone wolf, always navigating complex situations on their own,” she said. “They don’t like to be told what to do.”
If truckers follow through with what they say they will do, America’s supply chain crisis may soon become far worse.
From a perspective based purely on material benefits, it seems like it’s only logical to obey the mandate. Truckers can take an effective vaccine, keep their jobs, and keep the national supply chain running.
But human beings often want to assert that they amount to more than mere links in a chain, pulling on command from the federal government. The logic of individual freedom doesn’t calculate for material benefits.
“It’s just that shoving-it-down-your-throat part,” Morales said. “Our first instinct will be to push back.”