Long-haul driver launches petition calling for trucker protections during pandemic

A long-haul driver has launched a petition calling on the federal government to provide protections to truck drivers in future COVID-19 stimulus legislation.

Rachelle Tuttle works for a midsize carrier in Michigan, hauling essential items to California every week, then returning with a load of produce. She tag-teams the drive with her husband, which leaves her a lot of time to think about how to plan for the eventuality that she or her husband contracts COVID-19. 

A best-case scenario is she or her husband tests positive and shows few symptoms. Even then the couple would be grounded for a few weeks. A  worst-case scenario is she or her husband is hospitalized. Either way, they would need someplace to self-isolate or quarantine — and the financial cushion to ensure their food and lodging expenses were covered.

Like many long-haulers, Tuttle does not receive paid sick leave, even though she is an employee. She has health insurance but must pay a $6,000 deductible before the benefits kick in.

Since the outbreak started, thousands of truck drivers have expressed frustration over the lack of guidance about what to do if they start showing symptoms on the road. Long haulers are away from home more often than not. So if a driver becomes ill with COVID-19, it is likely it will happen while they are away.

But weeks into the epidemic, there is no consensus about where truckers should go to self-isolate, what they should do with their truck, or how they might weather the loss in income as well as the costs associated with self-isolating or quarantining on the road.

“Why aren’t the higher-ups figuring out the protocol?” Tuttle said. “There’s some resentment here.”

A self-described planner, Tuttle four days ago channeled her resentment into a petition calling on federal agencies  for three action items: Open a hotline for drivers offering guidance on how to handle COVID-19 symptoms; provide 100% reimbursement of food and lodging for drivers who become ill; and ensure sick pay that is commensurate with drivers’ daily pay.

“It’s about having procedures in place and protections for us financially,” Tuttle said.  

Some of the concerns raised in the petition might be addressed through coronavirus legislation Congress has passed over the past two weeks.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) took effect Wednesday and requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.

The $2 trillion CARES stimulus package passed by Congress last week allows small trucking companies and other businesses in danger of permanently closing their doors as a result of COVID-19 to apply for immediate relief. The bill includes grants to provide paid sick leave to employees unable to work due to the direct effect of COVID–19.

Tuttle says that’s not enough, and she’s hoping to catch the eye of lawmakers who are readying additional stimulus packages to manage the enormous economic devastation that has been unleashed by the crisis.

As of late Wednesday, the petition had registered more than 10,200 signatories. “It’s caught on like wildfire,” Tuttle said. “We’ve got a lot of worried drivers. We’re just sitting out wherever in this great country. It’s horrible.”

Petitions calling for stricter financial and safety protections in the nation’s trucking and logistics sector are growing as concerns about COVID-19 intensify. On Wednesday the AFL-CIO and 40 elected officials in New York signed a letter that was sent to Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos calling on the company to shut down all warehouses until adequate COVID-19 protections are implemented.

The letter comes in the wake of the company firing a whistleblower on Amazon’s health and safety conditions in a Queens, New York, warehouse.