They’re the backbone of the American economy, moving freight – from food and clothes to fuel and life-saving medicines – across the country to a store near you. They work long hours in ever-changing environments and struggle with healthcare, parking and sometimes antiquated processes along the way.
It's that time of year again to thank a truck driver. National Truck Driver Appreciation Week (NTDAW) kicks off Sunday with companies across the industry offering discounts, freebies and more to show their appreciation for the people who keep them in business.
“Truck drivers are underappreciated and undervalued, yet we know how much they provide for us, our household and our community,” said Lindsey Trent, president and co-founder of Next Gen Trucking. “We need to go out of our way to thank them for all their hard work that keeps shelves stocked, restaurants full and fuel pumping. To all of the professional drivers out there, thank you for all you do."
Here’s what different carriers are doing for their drivers:
NTDAW is very much a food-centric event, and drivers love food. At Westfield, Wisconsin-based Brakebush Transportation, food is available throughout the week at all of the company’s locations. Fleet Manager Chris Armstrong said the company is also trying something new this year: on-the-go snack packs, since drivers’ schedules don’t always align for a group meal. Mattawan, Michigan-based RMI Transportation & Warehousing also offers food every day.
“Since our drivers are in and out, we try to make sure that the food can be easily stored, warmed up and portable so they can grab stuff and head out,” said RMI CEO Ashley Moyle Kordish. “For the drivers that don’t make it in at all, they are able to buy one meal on us each day.”
The company also hosts its annual family picnic with food, games and more.
At Houston-based Jetco Delivery, each of its locations has a food day during NTDAW, and the food is homemade by office staff. The company also makes sure some snacks and drinks are always at the ready for drivers to grab and go throughout the week.
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But “we try to really make it about the professional drivers versus ‘food day’ in the office,” said Jetco Director of Employee Engagement Amanda Schuier. Through its vendors, suppliers and industry partners, Jetco offers a “prize” to each of its 135 professional drivers. Prizes include gift cards, cash, fishing poles, Astros baseball tickets, rodeo tickets and more. In addition, Jetco provides each driver with a goodie bag that includes information about its referral program, a new multi tool, a cooling towel and a few other things, including a Jetco T-shirt based on the NTDAW theme, which this year is “Miles of Gratitude.”
Brakebush also offers apparel or other items. This year, the company is providing backpacks.
“What makes these driver appreciation recognition gifts special is that they will be limited to being offered only to our driver team members,” Armstrong said. “As we are primarily an OTR operation, we will attempt to select items that we hope the driver will find has a practical purpose. As with the specific gifts, our goal is to really make the recognition special for our drivers.”
RMI offers prizes every day, too. Kordish said this includes drawings for apparel, gift cards, bluetooth headsets, Sirius radio subscriptions, cups that will fit in the truck cup holders and more. This year, the company has included the opportunity to win kayaks and a smokeless fire pit as end-of-week grand prizes. The company also offers apparel throughout the year during its safety award ceremonies that honor drivers for safe miles driven. They receive things like shirts, sweatshirts and coats. Drivers with over a million safe miles last year received a Carhartt coat with their name and miles embroidered on it.
Then there’s the more personal side of appreciation. Brakebush includes a letter and fleet message to all drivers thanking them for their contributions. Jetco’s president sent out a video via its learning management system company-wide to give an update on its business and to show appreciation to the team.
Kordish said RMI has many other things planned for the week, but one fun, and a little more unique, thing is the company’s theme days: superhero day, Harley day, pajama day and more. Those who participate and send in pictures are entered for more prizes.
But driver appreciation goes beyond food and prizes one week a year.
“I’ve been in the industry for 17 years now, and one of the things Jetco really does right is treating their drivers like they’re part of the team, and that’s a year-round thing,” Schuier said. “It’s cliché to say that we treat the drivers like family, but I genuinely believe we absolutely do our best to treat our drivers the way we want to be treated. My position was essentially created to focus on some of these things at Jetco. Part of my job includes interviewing and coaching drivers, sending surveys to get a pulse on what’s going on and more. That is year-round, not just during Driver Appreciation Week.”
A show of appreciation isn't something exclusive to large fleets. Jamie Hagan, whose Aberdeen, South Dakota-based Hellbent Xpress currently boasts 12 drivers, dispenses Amazon gift cards. Hagan, himself a driver, said he prefers rewarding his drivers with something they can use on themselves.
"I've never liked the 'Let's do a picnic' thing at the terminal," he said. "Drivers are hardly at a terminal."