During this summer’s hurricanes, Grammer Industries paid about $200,000 to truck drivers in Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, even though they were not able to make their scheduled deliveries.
Founder and vice chairman Shorty Whittington called the situation “damn tough” on the Indiana-based agricultural and specialized fleet, but suggested these are the lengths fleets need to go to in order to retain and recruit qualified truck drivers.
“It got people to want to work for us because we treated them right,” said Whittington.
He appeared at a panel discussion with three other long-time executives at the 2017 American Trucking Associations (ATA) Management Conference & Exhibition.
John Smith, chairman of CRST International and the head of the ATA’s new Workforce Development Subcommittee, said creating apprentice programs and working with the federal government to allow people under the age of 21 to train to become interstate truck drivers remain critical steps toward addressing the driver shortage.
Smith also said the United States must bring in more immigrants interested in becoming truck drivers because it offers higher pay than they could receive in their home countries. He added it is an unpopular idea with President Trump. Along with Dan England, chairman of C.R. England, and C.L. Werner, founder and executive chairman of Werner Enterprises, there was a consensus truck drivers need a weekly wage of at least $1,000.
Whittington said one way to reach that goal is for more fleets to consider paying some drivers an hourly rate.
He said he has been “tar and feathered” and told it is “business suicide” when he has raised the issue of hourly pay over the years.
His response is that the turnover rates for companies that incorporate hourly pay into their business models see significantly lower.
He stressed “this industry has done a terrible job communicating with shippers” about the need to assist in better compensating the drivers who are safely moving their products.
As an example, he said shippers should understand the difference a driver can make, much as a waiter from a five-star restaurant is bound to offer a higher level of service than a fast-food server.
Throughout the discussion, the way automation and technology is reshaping trucking was a repeated theme.
Smith said the current situation reminded him of the days after deregulation of the trucking industry in 1980, when “every part of our operations changed.”
England said technology will alter how fleets get the job done, “but there will always be a need for moving products across the nation’s highways.”
Werner added that e-commerce will continue to alter consumer buying patterns, and that final-mile delivery services to homes would like surge in demand.
“I see no end to that business,” he said.
He also projected major growth in the logistics sector, offering “a lot of opportunities for small carriers.”