There’s no shortage of news coming out of Washington these days and the trucking industry is in the mix. This week we are going to break down the new employment numbers and developments in the ongoing hours of service debate.
That the economy has been growing is no secret. According to the newest monthly jobs report released yesterday the economy added 321,000 non-farm jobs last month. The nation’s 5.8 percent unemployment rate is holding steady at a 6-year low.
Job gains have been accelerating across all industries, with business and retail services seeing the highest growth. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the for-hire tucking industry has seen a boost of 3,000 jobs, putting the overall number at 1.4 million.
Though trucking is still 2.1 percent below its January 2007 peak, the gains are still impressive. March 2010 was the industry’s lowest point, and since it has gained 188,800 jobs. This represents a whopping 15.3 percent jump in a little over four years.
Combined, transportation and warehousing employment added 16,700 jobs in November, reaching a total of 4.6 million employed. In an improving economy, a rising tide lifts all trucks.
Hours of Service
A new bill is circulating in congress that could include a provision suspending parts of the 2013 hours of service rule.
If included in the bill, the rider would suspend the requirement that a driver’s 34 hour restart include two 1:00am to 5:00am rest periods. What form and exact language the plan takes will be revealed on December 8th.
Whether or not the provision will survive the high levels of partisan squabbling in congress is another story. The language was introduced by Maine Senator Susan Collins, who stated:
“The fact is neither truck drivers, nor their customers, nor I, nor anyone in this room ever wants to see an accident caused by driver fatigue or any other cause. But what has become clear over the past 11 months is that the new federal rules have presented some unintended consequences that are not in the best interest of public safety, truck drivers or the businesses and consumers that depend on their services.”
Though the provision ultimately had enough bipartisan support, it was stalled by procedural battles between party leaders. Whether or not it makes it into the final bill is unclear.
Provided congress can get its act together, the provision still faces significant opposition from highway safety advocates, organized labor and truck crash victims. The groups involved include:
- The Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways
- Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
- Parents Against Tired Truckers
- Truck Safety Coalition
- The Teamsters Union
This past week these groups banded together and sent congress a letter opposing the Collins language. Among other things, the letter stated:
“As the 113th Congress draws to a close, trucking and shipping interest are relentlessly pushing an anti-safety agenda that is dangerous, deadly and unprecedented in its assault on public health and safety… enactment of these anti-safety measures will have a profound impact on highway safety.”
The hours of service provision was not their only target. The letter also outlined the coalition’s opposition to changes in truck size and weight limits. Ultimately the group urged President Obama to veto any bill that contains these provisions.
Perhaps the bigger question is whether or not any of this can even get through a lame duck session of congress and be signed by the president. Whether or not it ends up on the president’s desk depends on a lot of factors that have little to do with trucking.
The only reason the bill is being debated in a lame duck session to begin with is because the dysfunction in congress bottled up department budget bills. With a newly resurgent Republican Party set to take over in January, the rush is on to get something done. As a result, controversial riders like Senator Collin’s may never see the light of day.