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Trucking industry has jobs but fewer drivers.

Byline: Noelle Graves

Joe Mancuso, 48, has been driving for Braun's Express, a Hopedale-based transportation company, for 12 years.

He said he loves the work, and Braun's treats him and his fellow 180 drivers well. But his body is starting to feel the strain of driving eight or nine hours a day, with pain cropping up in his lower back, knees, ankles and shoulders.

"I always wanted to drive a truck; I like to be out on the road, but it's not easy work," he said, noting he combats the strain with regular exercise and healthy eating.

Mr. Mancuso is part of a shrinking workforce - truck drivers - whose total numbers are down 3 percent nationwide, and are expected to drop 30 percent in the next 10 years, according to industry estimates.

The shortfall is due to the rigors of the road, an aging workforce and new safety regulations that scrutinize driving records and work hours, according to the Massachusetts Motor Transportation Association, a trade group representing Massachusetts truckers and trucking companies.

The problem is only expected to get worse as the economy rebounds, which will create more demand for drivers. In addition, older drivers are retiring and other younger workers are finding less-demanding jobs.

"The biggest problem we have is not enough drivers," said Anne Lynch, executive director of the Massachusetts Motor Transportation Association.

The American Trucking Associations, the largest national trade association for the trucking industry, reported in November there is an estimated shortfall of about 25,000 long-haul, tractor-trailer drivers, representing about 3 percent of tractor trailer-drivers in America. The shortage is expected to balloon by 2022 to more than 250,000 drivers, or about 30 percent of the fleet nationwide.

The shortage is mostly with long-haul, cross-country drivers who are away from home for weeks at a time, but even short-haul jobs have fewer qualified applicants.

"For safety and other reasons, carriers are, generally speaking, very selective in their hiring practices and, therefore, cannot always find the drivers they would like to hire," wrote Bob Costello, chief economist and vice president of the American Trucking Associations, in an industry report.

New federal safety regulations, designed to make roads and truck drivers safer, urge trucking companies to hire safer drivers by setting up a scoring system for drivers' records, and by limiting the number of hours drivers can work. The scores become part of the drivers' and companies' federal safety ratings.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration put the safety measures in place in 2010 to continue the downward trend in accidents on the nation's highways since the 1970s; the numbers had recently hit a plateau.

Local trucking companies said they have embraced the safety regulations, but still struggle to find candidates for long-haul driving jobs because truckers are often away from home for weeks at a time.

Braun's Express is an 80-year-old, family-owned freight company, delivering carpeting and flooring supplies to the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest through its eight terminals.

"If drivers get home every night, we can fill those positions no problem," said Stephen Normandin, the company's director of strategic initiatives. But the long-haul driving jobs are "harder positions to fill," he said, taking up to several weeks to find the right candidate.

The company, which is non-union, keeps its trucker jobs filled by offering competitive wages and by treating its employees with concern and respect, said Mr. Normandin, who declined to specify the company's wage range.

There are 1.51 million truck drivers nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The median wage for tractor-trailer drivers as of 2011 was $18.24 per hour with an average annual salary of $39,830, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wage increases for truckers over the past 10 years have not kept pace with other workers, who saw a 33 percent increase in wages, while truckers' wages rose 18 percent since 2001.

When asked if pay was part of the problem in attracting people to driving jobs, Ms. Lynch, of the Massachusetts trucking association, said, "I don't think pay is the issue. It's a good wage for an entry-level position with very robust benefits."

A local union representative agreed trucking is difficult work and a major factor in the shortage, but said higher wages help to keep union driving jobs filled.

Michael Hogan, secretary-treasurer and principal officer of Teamsters Union Local 170, said union truck drivers are able to negotiate wages and typically earn more, from $23 to $34 per hour, plus benefits. The local union chapter has about 4,000 members in Central Massachusetts, of which 500 are truck drivers, both short- and long-haul.

"I don't have a (driver) shortage in my local," Mr. Hogan said. "I have about 500 drivers and the overwhelming majority of them are working. One of the reasons why some nonunion trucking companies are having trouble finding help is they offer lower wages and fewer benefits. There is also more turnover in the nonunion trucking world because the employees don't negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment. But whether it's a union or nonunion job, it's hard work. It's a tough job."

Nearly all of the drivers for UPS, the Atlanta-based global package delivery company, are fulltime and belong to the Teamsters union. They earn an average salary of $60,000 to $80,000 with full health care and full pension, said UPS spokesman Daniel McMackin.

"We're not affected by the driver shortage," Mr. McMackin said. "We hire almost exclusively from within. We pay extremely well, and we have low turnover."

Family-owned A. Duie Pyle is a national trucking company offering free driver training and pay while training. The company is nonunion and has managed to keep a full complement of drivers by drawing from the ranks of its docks and warehouses, said Stephen O'Kane, president of the 90-year-old business. The company, which is based in West Chester, Pa., serves the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and Canada, with 18 trucking terminals, including one in Northboro.

A. Duie Pyle pay rates vary by location, assignment and shift, but most drivers make $20 to $24 per hour, which works out to be about $40,000 annually. Most drivers work 50 hours per week, and the company pays overtime for any work over 45 hours per week. The company has increased wages every year except 2009, when the stagnant national economy prompted a wage freeze, Mr. O'Kane said.

"We work very hard to do the right thing by our employees," he said. "We recognize these are tough jobs. Day in, day out, it's a grind. It's a hard job."


CUTLINE: Stephen Normandin, director of strategic initiatives for Braun's Express in Hopedale, said long-haul driving jobs are hard to fill.

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 13, 2013
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