As policy makers wring their hands over the shortage, an Ivy League sociologist who spent time as a long-haul driver says the deficit is largely the industry's own doing.
ATA largely blames the grueling demands of a job that puts workers on the road for long periods. But Steve Viscelli, a sociologist and fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Robert A. Fox Leadership Program, says the shortage is the product of an industry labor model that relies heavily on inexperienced drivers and independent contractors.
Mr. Viscelli, who worked as a truck driver for several months while researching his 2016 book, “The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream,” says upward of 25 percent of long-haul truck drivers are independent contractors, also known as owner-operators. They are attracted by promises of being their own bosses, but the arrangement often saddles them with unsustainable debt and high expenses, he adds.
Drivers typically receive training from big trucking companies or schools affiliated with them. Those who become independent contractors sign lease-to-own deals to purchase their vehicles, often with those same companies. But the terms are onerous, and drivers owe so much that they may end up working 70 or 80 hours a week just to pay back what they owe and cover expenses such as fuel and insurance. Drivers are suing some companies that use this model, saying they should be classified as employees rather than contractors.
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