Truck Driver Pay Rose Before Pandemic

Truck Driver Pay Rose Before Pandemic

The American Trucking Associations released a driver compensation study on May 21 showing that the nation’s truck drivers received a nice bump in pay in 2019.

Of course, that was pre-pandemic.

The ATA does the study every two years. It found that average driver pay was $58,000 annually in 2019, up from $52,000 in 2017; the average was for solo van drivers, the ATA said.

The national organization surveyed 105 fleets and more than 140,000 drivers for the report.

The previous two years, before the coronavirus pandemic, were good years for the trucking industry as the economy continued to flourish.

“These results show that fleets did exactly what we would expect them to in the face of a tightening market for drivers: They raised pay and increased benefits in order to attract talent,” said Bob Costello, the chief economist for the American Trucking Associations.

“We saw large carriers hire more entry-level drivers in 2019, including drivers directly from driver training school, which lowered the average pay for these carriers, but they did not reduce pay rates,” Costello said. “It was just a different driver experience pool.”

The competition for drivers in 2019 caused companies to offer more attractive benefits to candidates, benefits including paid leave and expenses for meals and such as well as retirement plans. The ATA said 90% of trucking companies, including truckload, less-than-truckload and private fleets, offered drivers health insurance and paid leave.

“What these figures show is that being a truck driver can be a path to a middle-class lifestyle for millions of Americans,” Costello said. “With the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic crisis not yet fully clear, we can say that a career in trucking could be a well-paying solution for some of the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs so far this year.”

This year hasn’t been kind to the economy, and some truckers are getting caught up in the upheaval. ArcBest Corp. of Fort Smith said in May that it laid off 12% of its unionized drivers and 14% of its service center employees; the company also cut pay and hours 15% for nonunion employees. (ArcBest, at last report, had 13,000 employees, of whom 8,320 were union members.)

Other companies, such as Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale and J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell, have paid out bonuses to employees, including drivers, who are keeping goods moving.

Workhound, a software platform for the trucking industry, has been surveying drivers on its website. Workhound’s CEO and co-founder is Max Farrell, the son of former Arkansas Business Publishing Group CEO Olivia Farrell.

Max Farrell said drivers have been increasingly demanding hazard pay for their work during the pandemic. Workhound released a report for the month of April showing that 25% of the more than 750 drivers who contacted the company wanted hazard pay.

“More companies have been taking action to meet those needs in whatever ways they can,” Farrell said. “Some companies would give drivers a $1,000 bonus whether they have been there a month or been there 10 years. During the slowdown of the pandemic there were more drivers than there was freight. Companies that are struggling said all we can do is give you $25 to get a sandwich and a cup of coffee because we are having to furlough people.”

Despite the complaints and the hard times of delivering in the crisis, Farrell said, truck drivers are still going about their business. Workhound’s April survey showed that 80% of drivers were optimistic but were concerned about how their companies were planning for continued operations during the pandemic.

“People in transportation are saying we have to keep things moving and we have to take care of our people,” Farrell said. “It was really inspiring to me. Right now is the moment that trucking and truck drivers are seen as the white knights of the road for the first time in decades.”