Late last week, news of a federal vaccine mandate affecting tens of millions of workers upended the trucking industry, sending some drivers spiraling and some companies scrambling for a response.
On September 9, President Joe Biden announced a series of sweeping actions designed to fight back against COVID-19 by increasing employment-related vaccination requirements. In coming weeks, the White House says that it will direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to introduce new regulations that will force private sector companies that employ more than 100 workers to require either proof of vaccination or weekly testing. Companies that fail to comply could face penalties of $14,000 per violation.
The timeline for the implementation of the vaccine mandate and details about how it would be enforced remain up in the air.
The White House estimates that 80 million workers will be affected by this vaccine/testing requirement.
How Do Truckers Feel About A Mandated Jab?
26% of respondents would rather be fired than be forced to vaccinate
The vaccine has been largely unpopular among members of the trucking community since it was introduced.
A CDLLife poll of 1,053 users conducted in December 2020 found that 79% of respondents did not plan to get the vaccine when it became available. Drivers cited a number of reasons for not wanting the vaccine — some said that the vaccine was rushed, others cited medical and bodily autonomy reasons for refusal, and still more said they were concerned about side effects.
One poll respondent remarked:
To be straight to the point, why would we? Absolutely zero concern was shown to drivers when the pandemic started. Many of us have been to every hot spot this country had to offer BEFORE the face mask and glove thing was going on. Let alone when the supplies were available to us ‘first responders.’ Most likely (but not a certainty considering our mostly solitary lifestyles), we already caught it awhile ago and many are still around. So I ask again, why would we?
A poll conducted by CDLLife following the September 9 Biden announcement shows that 26% of the 2200 respondents say they would rather be fired than get the vaccine. Another 10.3% told us that they’d opt to quit before getting vaccinated. An additional 7.1% of respondents said that they would begin looking for jobs at smaller trucking companies that don’t meet the 100 employee threshold.
Truckers take to social media to voice concern, frustration
The White House’s Thursday announcement generated a wide variety of reactions from the CDLLife Facebook audience.
“Let’s see how big the driver shortage will be if this goes thru,” one user commented.
“Well I guess a lot of us are going to be getting fired now because I’m not going to comply with it and pretty much every driver I know that hasn’t gotten the vaccine already has said they will get fired before they accept this,” said another.
One vaccinated user pointed out, “Talking about abuse of power, it’s everyone’s choice to get the vaccine or not and yes I’m vaccinated but that was by choice.”
Even weeks before the White House announcement on vaccines, truckers were already putting hard consideration into leveraging their status as essential workers to protest possible vaccine requirements by stopping their trucks — either refusing to continue to deliver fuel, medicine, and groceries (as they have done tirelessly throughout the pandemic, even as services they need like rest areas and restaurants closed) or by publicly demonstrating with slow rolls or even road blockades. Some of the these plans were made in solidarity with a group of Australian truckers also angry over vaccine requirements and COVID lockdowns.
On August 31, small trucker demonstrations took place in Nashville and other locations around the U.S.
Larger demonstrations could be coming. A Facebook group called “Stop the Tires for Medical Freedom” has gained more than 30,000 followers since it was created on August 26, 2021.
In trucker groups like Black Smoke Matters, users are angry and seem serious about a driver shut down. “Time to park the trucks brothers !!!” one group member said. “What’s everyone think about Biden declaring war on the unvaccinated?” another asked.
In the video below, Facebook user Brian Hinson expressed outrage over the vaccine requirements and called for drivers to shut down. “We’re done. We’re done. We’ve been on the phone, my phone’s been blowing up. You can look at several groups coming together. We are shutting the rigs down completely. We don’t care. We’re fighting back. We’re shutting the 18 wheelers down, it doesn’t matter,” he said.
What Are Trucking Companies Saying?
The White House vaccine mandates could spell disaster for trucking companies already battling recruiting and retention issues. Companies are already struggling to fill seats and keep the supply chain moving, and requiring drivers to get the jab or face the burden of weekly testing probably won’t help matters.
However, there is potential for drivers who are willing to take the vaccine to leverage their decision into a higher paycheck. In a September 10 LinkedIn post, Colorado-based trucking company No Limit Logistics LLC shared an interesting take on how the mandate could translate into higher wages for drivers who have been vaccinated:
The good? Truck drivers that are already vaxxed should see a bump in their pay as they become even higher demand for large fleets over 100 employees. Fleets with over 100 employees must basically have vaxxed drivers as it’s near impossible to test unvaxxed drivers weekly when they are out on the road for weeks or months at a time. Not to mention the costs of trying to do this.
The bad? This will exacerbate the already tight capacity issue that exits now. Even if a very small % of drivers leave the industry, supply chains will suffer greatly. This in effect will drive freight rates even higher resulting in higher inflation in consumer products.
Supply Chains and Shippers should settle in for a long, bumpy ride.
ATA Denounces Vaccine Mandates
On Monday, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) issued a statement calling the vaccine mandate “discriminatory” and promising to “choose a path that protects our industry.”
“ATA, its members and our drivers remain committed to delivering life-saving COVID vaccines, but these proposed requirements—however well-intentioned—threaten to cause further disruptions throughout the supply chain, impeding our nation’s COVID response efforts and putting the brakes on any economic revival. If these mandates are designed to protect Americans, then why the discriminatory 100-employee threshold, picking winners and losers for both employees and employers?” the group said.
What Will Happen Next?
That remains to be seen. As the White House pushes forward through legal hurdles to make the vaccine mandate happen, both trucking companies and drivers will be required to make some tough decisions.
Questions the industry as a whole will have to answer:
- Are there major protests activities on the horizon?
- Can the trucking industry work to find some kind of vaccine exemption? Canada, for example, has imposed vaccine mandates on almost all transportation workers but has given the trucking industry a special exemption.
- For drivers, is it really worth the hassle of finding a new job to make a point about medical freedoms?
- Could the vaccine mandate provide an unexpected driver recruiting boon for smaller trucking companies?
CDLLife will continue to follow new developments on this situation as they arise.