Biden vaccine mandate may worsen low driver retention rates

An emergency rule being developed by the U.S. Department of Labor mandating vaccines or weekly testing for workers at companies with 100 or more employees is likely to exacerbate the already low driver retention rates in the trucking industry.

“Some of the biggest companies are already requiring this — United Airlines, Disney, Tyson Foods and even Fox News,” said President Joe Biden in announcing the new requirement at the White House on Thursday. “The bottom line: We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers.”

Biden said that the rule — which will affect over 80 million private sector workers across the country — will have a provision for those who do not want to get vaccinated to show a negative COVID-19 test result at least once a week.

Trucking companies with approximately 50 tractors can have at least 100 employees, based on rough estimates. Statistics compiled by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and FreightWaves Passport Research reveal that fleets with 56 or more tractors make up roughly 1.3% of the nation’s fleets but over half of the total number of tractors (see chart).

That means a large number of seats could wind up unfilled if even a small percentage of drivers refuse to get the vaccine, at a time when trucking companies are already straining to fill seats in order to take advantage of the high demand for their services.

The American Trucking Associations pointed out that the mandate will not be felt immediately.

“The [Department of Labor’s] Occupational Safety and Health Administration will need some time to develop its emergency rule for businesses with over 100 employees,” ATA commented in response to the plan.

“It is also worth noting that OSHA emergency rules do not have a great track record when courts review them, so they will need to carefully consider costs and benefits. As part of that process, ATA will ensure that OSHA and the White House understand the implications of the rule to our supply chain, each ATA member and all our employees.”

Businesses that do not comply with the mandate could face fines of up to $14,000 per violation, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The publication also cited research showing that Montana is the only state that has banned private employers from requiring workers to get a COVID vaccine. “Other Republican-led states could take steps to fight federal efforts to require employers to have their employees get vaccinated,” the Journal said.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.