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ATA’s Spear talks vaccine mandate, infrastructure

Sept. 14, 2021
During the American Trucking Associations' Technology and Maintenance Council Fall Meeting in Cleveland, Chris Spear reiterated the association's stance on Biden's vaccine mandate and lauded bipartisan infrastructure developments.

Although American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear expressed a continued commitment on delivering and having access to “life-saving” COVID vaccines, he explained that President Joe Biden’s new vaccine mandate raises serious concerns for the trucking industry.

The new requirements would impact more than 80 million working Americans at every company with more than 100 employees. ATA anticipates this decision could have “substantial, adverse effects on trucking capacity and the U.S. supply chain by unnecessarily exacerbating the current driver shortage and broader labor shortage.”

The specific requirements for employers identified so far include: all employers with more than 100 employees will have to ensure they are all vaccinated or test each unvaccinated employee for the virus weekly; Employers will have to provide paid time off for employee vaccination or recovery from the vaccine’s side effects; federal contractors will have to ensure 100% of employees are vaccinated, with no option to test unvaccinated employees as an alternative; violations of these requirements could result in fines that vary from about $1,000 per instance in most circumstances where there is little or almost no immediate danger to the workers, on up to $136,000 per instance for a willful or repeat violations.

"ATA, its members and our drivers remain committed to delivering life-saving COVID vaccines, but these proposed requirements—however well-intentioned—threaten to cause further disruptions throughout the supply chain, impeding our nation’s COVID response efforts and putting the brakes on any economic revival,” Spear said. "As this proposal moves forward, ATA is examining all options and will choose a path that protects our industry." 

Infrastructure: Action after years of ‘empty promises’

Breakdowns in the National Highway System—structurally deficient bridges, roads in poor or mediocre condition, and freight bottlenecks that have a pervasive regional impact—is a result of decades of neglect and underinvestment by public officials, Spear explained.

“For years, our country and industry have been held captive by empty promises. All talk, no action,” Spear said. “And while the infrastructure beneath us falters, the freight demands placed on trucks continues to grow exponentially. As we look over the horizon—absent a substantial increase in federal infrastructure funding or significant hikes in freight charges—our industry won’t be able to sustain the thin operating margins that the business of trucking survives on.”

Now, however, the bipartisan infrastructure bill in Congress, which cleared the Senate with broad support from Republicans and Democrats, now awaits action in the House. The current bill authorizes $477 billion in new funding over the next five years for surface transportation programs, including $347.5 billion for highways, and $37 billion for bridges.

The bill also would establish a three-year, national pilot program based on the DRIVE-Safe Act, authorizing up to 3,000 18- to 20-year-old drivers at any one time to undergo advanced safety training in order to participate in interstate commerce. It also establishes a Women in Trucking Advisory Board for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and it funds a Department of Transportation advertisement campaign to promote workforce needs in trucking and other transportation sectors.

“Equally important is what’s not included in the bill,” Spear said, explaining the association fought to eliminate labor provisions from the PRO Act, independent contractor reclassification, a rollback of meal and rest break preemption, hours-of-service reform rollbacks, a return of the CSA scoring program back to public view, and a truck-only vehicle miles traveled tax.