Union slams 'wrong and dangerous' bill aimed at driver recruiting

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Updated Feb 2, 2023

A bill introduced last week by U.S. Representatives Dusty Johnson (R-South Dakota) and Jim Costa (D-California) that seeks improvements in safety and shipping capacity for trucking companies; provides recruitment and retention incentives for drivers; and includes flexibility during times of emergencies or black swan events is receiving pushback, but not from Capitol Hill. 

Teamsters General President Sean M. O'Brien Wednesday sent letters to members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee urging them to oppose H.R. 471, the Safer Highways and Increased Performance for Interstate Trucking (SHIP IT) Act, claiming it jeopardizes the safety of workers and motorists and does nothing to address the supply chain problems' root cause. 

"Supply chain challenges and bottle necks over the last few years have laid bare a number of critical issues in the trucking industry, including the prevalence of poor working conditions, rampant and illegal misclassification of drivers under labor law, and the scourge of fly-by-night contracted and subcontracted motor carriers," O'Brien penned in his letter to the U.S. House of Representatives. "H.R. 471 looks to wrong and dangerous short-term 'solutions' to the very real legal and economic issues present in commercial trucking."

The SHIP IT Act would allow for the introduction of heavier trucks on the road, which O'Brein said are prone to more frequent and more severe crashes. It would also grant the Secretary of Transportation authority on size and weight requirements, which he called "unjustifiable," and "gut fatigue protections for drivers carrying agricultural goods."

The bi-partisan bill also calls for a temporary $7,500 tax credit for eligible truck drivers who logged at least 1,900 hours of on-duty time and whose adjusted gross income for the taxable year does not exceed $135,000 jointly; $112,500 as head of household; or $90,000 individually. New drivers – defined as someone "who did not drive a commercial truck in the course of a trade or business during the preceding taxable year" – are eligible for a $10,000 tax credit. It also unlocks Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act grants for tuition, fees and other costs of entry-level driver training provided by a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration-registered trainer. The grant could be extended to include other education and training costs, including the cost of course materials, supplies, technology, and fees for graduation, licensure or certification.

To improve parking, the bill authorizes grants to states and private agencies for projects that include new or expanded truck parking. It also proposes to streamline the CDL process, making it easier for states and third parties to administer CDL tests.

"The International Brotherhood of Teamsters welcomes important conversations about improving the trucking industry – for both drivers and the American consumer," O'Brien said. "However, H.R. 471 is simply an anti-safety bill in sheep's clothing."

The bill has seen a mixed reception among other industry groups too, namely the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which lauded Reps. Johnson and Costa for addressing truck parking in the bill, but said it's off the mark when addressing driver retention, "by failing to fix the underlying causes of the driver retention problem in trucking, including a lack of adequate compensation from carriers and a failure of shippers and carriers to value any of a trucker’s time."

The Shippers Coalition and many agriculture groups have widely supported the bill. 

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected].