President Joe Biden celebrated federal investments in the trucking industry during a White House event on Monday, highlighting strides the administration has made in implementing its “Trucking Action Plan,” which was unveiled late last year.
Standing in front of two trucks at an event on the White House lawn, the President referred to truck drivers as the Americans who are making the economic comeback from Covid-19 possible.
“I want to thank you … (for) keeping America moving, because that’s literally what you’re doing – especially these last two years, helping carry the nation literally on your backs,” Biden said.
“All of you here today are people our economy should be built around, because you all, you all are the people who literally make it run,” Biden told truckers in the audience. “That’s not hyperbole. You literally make it run. I have nothing against investment bankers. They could all retire and nothing much would change. Y’all quit? Everything comes to a halt.”
The Trucking Action Plan focuses on “building supply chain resilience through better quality trucking jobs,” White House assistant press secretary Emilie Simons told reporters Sunday.
It is a tumultuous time for the trucking industry. Truckers move 72% of the US economy’s goods, per industry estimates, but the Covid-19 pandemic saw a spike in labor shortages for the industry, with one trucking association CEO telling CNN last year that the sector was short 80,000 drivers.
The Biden administration is under heavy political pressure to unclog supply chain shortages and knock down soaring inflation. But despite continued inflationary pressures, the President on Monday largely sought to highlight recent economic victories, such as Friday’s news that the unemployment rate hit a new pandemic low.
Monday’s event was intended to serve as outreach to a segment of working-class Americans for a President who has often styled himself as an ally to blue-collar workers, and it follows headlines earlier this year of trucker protests over Covid-19 restrictions.
The Trucking Action Plan introduced last year increased federal funding to expedite issuance of commercial driver’s licenses, expanded outreach efforts to veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs, and established a joint initiative between the Departments of Labor and Transportation to expand recruitment and advocate for employees.
Maria Rodriguez, a trucking apprentice, former Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, who chairs the Veterans Trucking Task Force, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg all spoke at the White House event on Monday.
Rodriguez said that after losing her job in March 2020, she sought a career change to support her family and provide stability. Now working as a trucking apprentice, she said that “as an essential part of the supply chain, I feel like I’m a part of something bigger than myself.”
“I want to thank President Biden and Vice President (Kamala) Harris for leading the 90-day trucking apprenticeship program,” Rodriguez said. “This program has built clear paths to careers in truck driving that are fulfilling and offer endless opportunities. I feel like I leapt into this new career, and I’m so happy that I did. I hope that I can be an inspiration to other women who are thinking of joining the industry.”
In a fact sheet released Sunday evening, the White House said that since Biden took office, the administration had “taken on the supply chain disruptions and price increases resulting from the decades-long lack of investment in the nation’s goods movement supply chain.”
Still, the tough working conditions for long-haul truck drivers in particular make it incredibly difficult to retain drivers, who often leave for other companies or quit the industry altogether.
The average annualized turnover rate of long-haul drivers at larger companies was 96% during the third quarter of last year, according to the American Trucking Associations, a trade group. At smaller carriers, the turnover rate was 73%.
The job typically consists of multiday trips during which the driver spends nights away from home and sleeps in the cab of the truck. The median pay is $47,130 per year, which is higher than the median for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But long-haul truck drivers are typically paid on a per-mile basis, rather than per hour worked, and are also exempt from receiving overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. That means drivers are only earning money when they are actively driving and not when they are waiting for cargo to be ready for pickup, or while the truck is loaded or unloaded, for example.
Plus, it’s a dangerous job. Compared with the average worker, motor vehicle operators are 10 times more likely to be killed on the job and nearly nine times more likely to be injured on the job, according to a report from the Department of Commerce referencing 2015 data.
This story has been updated with remarks from Monday’s event at the White House.
CNN’s Katie Lobosco contributed to this report.