COVID-19 & trucking update: OOIDA asks for testing; layoffs pile up

As the country enters what Trump administration and several governors are calling both a tragic week of loss and a possible apex of deaths and new cases in some parts of the nation, reports are mounting of growing tension and turmoil down on the front lines of the supply chain.

In a short but pointed letter to President Trump from the Owner Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA), president Todd Spencer said “urgent and immediate action is demanded to safeguard our nation’s supply chain.” 

Spencer said drivers must have access to testing, “available where they are, particularly on busy truck routes.” 

Spencer’s letter also said the country needs a program so that drivers can quarantine at “nearby motels.” That would be after the results of the testing are available, which should be in “hours, not days,” Spencer wrote.

Such a plan might cut capacity on the roads, according to Spencer. “Once word spreads that drivers are testing positive, we could very well see a tremendous reduction in drivers willing to risk everything for the rest of us,” he wrote.

“We need a plan for them,” the letter concludes. “We need help. Do it.”

The issue of hotels and motels was also on the mind of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Truckers were not specified in a long list of acceptable guests at the state’s hotels, but “persons away from their home due to work or work-related travel” was. “Commercial lodgings and short-term rentals…shall only permit occupancy for the following authorized guests” was the wording in Hutchinson’s order, signed Saturday, April 4. 

It is mostly targeted on “out of state guests who travel here to enjoy all that our state has to offer. However, during this health emergency, all resources must be maintained and preserved to the greatest extent possible for the health and safety of Arkansas citizens.”

Meanwhile, the impact on workers continues to grow. A quick survey of WARN notices in various states revealed several layoffs integral to the supply chain.

In Texas, ProPetro has announced it is laying off 388 workers in its hydraulic fracturing division. Also in Texas, Dallas-based Pinnacle Logistics in late March filed a notice with the state of Texas that it was laying off 134 workers. Pinnacle has 13 service locations, most of them in Texas, and has both a trucking and an air segment. 

In Ohio, a filing with that state’s WARN office from Dedicated Logistics Inc. (DLI) suggested layoffs at the company’s Hamilton terminal were coming on May 31.  

But the letter also said that the successor company to the business lost by Dedicated, Day & Ross, “has committed to [DLI] to offer a job to every employee presently working at or reporting into the Hamilton Terminal.” 

Similarly, a WARN notice in Georgia about layoffs at Shaw Industries’ facility in Whitfield County covering 275 workers was not related to COVID-19, according to a Shaw spokeswoman. 

In other developments:

–Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC) President and CEO Diego Aponte saluted the workers who, as part of an “essential cog for global trade,” cannot stay home during the coronavirus pandemic. Working remotely “is not an option for many of our people – our seafarers who navigate our fleet of 550 container ships; the drivers of trucks, trains and barges; dockworkers; handlers of goods at our depots and warehouses; and our vigilant port captains and terminal operators around the globe. We salute them all, and many others like them, for their unwavering dedication,” Aponte said in an open letter posted Monday, April 6. Aponte said MSC has adapted to the current environment through such programs as the Suspension of Transit, which includes container storage at six transshipment hubs around the world, and encouraging the use of its online booking platform myMSC. He added that the company has provided help, including in Italy, where a MSC Group-owned passenger ferry operator, Grandi Navi Veloci, converted the Splendid into a floating hospital to help combat COVID-19 in that hard-hit country.

– Universal Logistics, based in the Atlanta suburb of Smyrna, was the focus of a local television news story. Some employees said their final paycheck stood at a nice round figure – zero. Universal, according to the story, works “alongside” the Nissan plant in Smyrna. About 20 employees “went to pick up their final checks this morning, as some are leaving to work for a different logistics company,” the story from WZTV said. “To their surprise, the amount on most of their papers was $0.00.” The employees with the zeroed-out paychecks said they did not know why it was at that level. An email to Universal sent by FreightWaves had not been answered by publication time. The WZTV story said it also had not received a response.