Editor's note: This article was updated based on an announcement issued by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) earlier today.
The trucking industry is blasting President Joe Biden’s vaccine policy that requires private sector employers with over 100 employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
American Trucking Associations (ATA) has told the Biden administration that trucking has “grave concern” that the COVID-19 vaccine mandate will damage the industry and the nation. But at the same time it believes it has an exemption from the vaccine mandate.
The mandate covers two-thirds of the nation’s workforce. Trucking is claiming that it is exempt because most of truckers work in non-office settings, mostly outdoors.
“As we made clear in our comments to the administration prior to the rule’s publication, drivers spend the vast majority of their workday alone in the cab and outside,” ATA President and CEO said in a statement.
The rule published exempts employees who exclusively work outdoors or remotely and have minimal contact with others indoors. ATA said “all indications’ from the Department of Labor suggest this exemption does apply to the commercial truck driver population.
“While we complete our due diligence to confirm that fact through official channels, we see quotes from Labor Secretary (Marty) Walsh as an enormous victory for our association and industry,” Spear said.
“Given the nationwide shortage of truck drivers, it is vital that our industry has the relief it needs to keep critical good moving, including food, fuel, medicine and the vaccine itself,” Spear added.
ATA estimates that the industry could lose up to 37% of its drivers under the new mandates. That would significantly worsen the current driver shortage—now estimated at 80,000 due to retirements, perceived poor pay and other factors.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) decision on the mandates will have “vast unintended consequences,” the ATA predicted.
The new requirements, first hinted in September, will apply to about 84 million workers at medium and large businesses. OSHA said companies that fail to comply with the regulations could face penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation. There are approximately 60,000 unvaccinated adults in this country.
“While I would have much preferred that requirements not become necessary, too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good,” Biden said in a statement on Nov. 4.
“We continue to believe OSHA is using extraordinary authority unwisely, applying it across all industries at an arbitrary threshold of 100 employees that fails to factor in actual risks. We are weighing all options of recourse to ensure every segment of our industry’s workforce is shielded from the unintended consequences of this misguided mandate,” ATA’s Spear added.
Other portions of the trucking industry also protested the OSHA requirement. The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) said it was “dismayed” that trucking was not exempt from the mandate. The compliance date for the mandate is Jan. 4.
Under the OSHA ruling, the mandate requires unvaccinated workers to begin wearing masks by Dec. 5 and provide a negative COVID test on a weekly basis after the January deadline.
Trucking companies are not required to pay for or provide the tests unless otherwise required to by state or local laws. They have until Dec. 5 to offer paid time off for employees to receive the vaccine and paid sick leave to recover from any side effects.
TCA said it was “still analyzing” the mandate and its ramifications. In a statement, the federation blasted the Biden administration for being shortsighted in its approach.
“TCA repeatedly called on the administration to heed our warnings regarding this mandate’s impact on the already constrained supply chain, yet they chose to proceed with a disastrous mandate which will undoubtedly ensure the trucking industry loses a substantial number of drivers,” TCA said in a statement.
“These are the drivers the country is relying on to deliver food, fuel and presents for the upcoming holiday season, yet our national leadership has decided these needs must go unmet,” the group added.
TCA said its opposition to the mandate is not political – it is simply driven by facts and the knowledge of the 24/7 efforts already being contributed by our diligent workforce.
President Biden cannot call on trucking to “work harder” when his policies are cutting us off at the knees and depriving us of the workforce we need,” TCA said. “Be assured that TCA will pursue every option to fight the imposition of this mandate on our members.”
Lawsuits are likely. Private sector companies, nonprofit groups, and roughly a dozen state governors have said they plan to file suit against the mandate.
“While we do not yet know whether these lawsuits will result in a delay or eventual overturning of the mandate, we are optimistic that they will ultimately be successful, and we will work to support these initiatives as much as we can,” TCA said.
NATSO, representing America’s truckstops and travel plazas, joined with other trucking interests in criticizing the proposed vaccination and testing emergency standard.
“The travel plaza and truckstop industry supports efforts to increase vaccinations in the United States, but a federal vaccine mandate will have a significant negative impact on our industry and its ability to keep truck drivers on the road. NATSO members are a critical part of the supply chain and serve the nation’s truck drivers, who deliver life-saving vaccines,” NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings said in a statement.
“Losing additional employees on top of the current labor challenges could force some retailers to close their doors and lead to limited fuel supplies,” Mullings added.
“Since the pandemic began, NATSO members recognized how important it was to keep their doors open to keep professional drivers on the road, delivering food and medical supplies. When the vaccine became available, truckstops and travel centers provided bonuses and paid time off for employees to get vaccinated,” she added.
NATSO said it was working with OSHA as it reviews its rule to ensure that the vaccine and testing mandate does not further challenge those businesses that are struggling to remain open.