Trucking Boom: Drivers Riding High
Trucking Boom: Drivers Riding High by eMedia Staff Writer’ Companies are equipping their fleets with satellite televisions and other amenities to make life on the road more comfortable. It is a bonanza for drivers like Alex Topolse. The 34-‘year’-old Auburn Maine resident said he went from flipping burgers and doing seasonal warehouse work to driving a chemical tanker truck in 2013. He said he liked the work but moved to a company based closer to home’and was offered a 50% raise. He said he has already received two small raises with his new employer and is on track to earn nearly $70000 this year. After years of spending long hours behind the wheel without seeing their paychecks grow U.S. truck drivers now have employers fighting for their services. Many freight haulers have in the past year pushed through their biggest raises in decades. Truck’-stop job boards and satellite radio airwaves are saturated with want ads some offering sign’-on bonuses topping $5000 and free bus tickets to drivers willing to switch employers. Average pay for long’-haul truckers jumped 17% since the end of 2013 to a record $57000 this year according to the National Transportation Institute a research group. U.S. wages rose by less than 4% over the same period. Higher trucker pay is being passed along to retailers grocers and other shippers. Drivers are in demand in the shifting $700 billion trucking industry. Business is booming because the economy is expanding and the strong dollar is increasing demand for imported goods that must be transported from ports to cities and towns nationwide though growth has cooled recently. At the same time interest in the profession is waning. The long’haul trucking industry which employs about 800000 people today needs an additional 48000 drivers according to the American Trucking Associations a trade group. That is a tall order at a time when unemployment is falling. Many who might have considered trucking are opting for construction work a job that doesn’t involve long stretches away from home and pays competitive wages. Trucking companies have always had trouble holding on to staff with a typical long’-haul company replacing nearly all of its drivers over the course of a year. Truck drivers might spend 11 hours a day nearly every day behind the wheel sometimes for weeks on end. They sleep in their truck’s cramped cabin and rely on truck stops for meals and showers’with quality varying widely. Truckers earn anywhere from $0.30 to $0.60 or more per mile driven. They used to make significantly less; the average annual salary for truckers in 2013 was below 2005 levels according to the NTI. Eric Fuller chief operating officer at U.S. Xpress said the raise was a snap decision after company recruiters fell short of their quota to hire 200 drivers a week the number needed to meet customer demand. Other large carriers matched the move. Trucking companies have had less trouble recruiting recently in part because the pace of growth in freight volumes has slowed. Still though normally one round of pay increases brings out enough drivers the current climate feels different Mr. Fuller said. “It’s going to have to happen again. It’s inevitable’ he said. U.S. Xpress Inc. a Chattanooga Tenn.’based trucking fleet was among the first to push through a large raise last August when the company boosted pay by 13% across the board the biggest increase in company history. Higher costs are driving shippers to reconfigure their supply chains. In August Whirlpool Corp. opened a distribution center near a railroad spur outside Chicago so the company could load appliances directly from trains avoiding the need to hire trucks. The amount of goods moved by train is also increasing’but trains can’t deliver to as many locations as trucks which carry some two’-thirds of cargo nationwide.