The Overworked and Underpaid
Truck drivers work long, grueling hours on the road to keep America’s supply chain running. Yet unlike most other professions, they are exempt from overtime pay protections under a 1938 federal law. A new bipartisan bill aims to change that by guaranteeing truckers time-and-a-half pay when they work over 40 hours per week.
Introduced in the House and Senate last week, the legislation has trucker advocates cheering but industry lobbyists predicting doom. If passed, it would be a major win for the nation’s 2.19 million truck drivers, many of whom feel chronically overworked and undervalued.
The Push for Fair Compensation
The bill follows urging from the Biden administration to provide overtime protections for truckers. A similar effort last April went nowhere, but supporters hope the latest bipartisan effort will pick up steam.
Truck drivers currently get paid per mile, not per hour. Under federal rules, they can only drive 11 hours within a 14-hour window and are capped at 70 hours over 8 days. But time spent loading, unloading, and waiting often goes unpaid.
Experts say paying overtime would compensate drivers for those unpaid hours and could improve retention in an industry with 94% turnover. Higher pay could also boost safety by reducing driver fatigue.
The American Trucking Association (ATA), the industry’s largest lobbying group, strongly opposes the change. The ATA argues it would “decimate trucking jobs” by forcing companies to reduce driver hours to avoid paying overtime.
But driver advocacy groups counter that fair pay would improve, not threaten, the profession. “Unbelievably, trucking is one of the only professions in America that is denied guaranteed overtime pay,” said Todd Spencer, President of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
Median Earnings vs. Reality
Critics point to Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing truckers earned a median salary of nearly $50,000 in 2022. But driver groups note many earn far less after deducting business costs. Low pay compounds the difficult trucker lifestyle, they argue, and higher earnings would help retention.
Uphill Climb in Congress
Despite bipartisan sponsorship, the bill still faces skepticism among some Republicans and possible opposition from moderate Democrats. Given split control of Congress, it may not advance beyond committee review.
But driver groups vow to continue pressing the issue. Says Spencer, “This starts with simply paying truckers for all the time they work.” After decades of working long hours without overtime, truckers hope their time has finally come.
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