Christopher Lofgren, president and CEO of Schneider National, put it this way: "I think people recognize that there isn't one answer, there isn't one mode to solve the problem. There's more of a willingness to say how do we work through this, where traditionally we have fought each other to get whatever share we could get. It is different today. There is a new spirit of collaboration in the industry."
Lofgren suggested a raft of policy changes, from tax breaks on federally mandated equipment to lowering speed limits. One suggestion was directed at the driver shortage.
"Driver pay is our No. 1 cost," he said. "It hasn't changed in real terms since 1980 – it's actually less. We have to be able to recover that cost and the market does not allow us to do it."
Part of the solution would be to expand permanent employment visas to cover immigrant truck drivers, he said. "We know there is a significant population of potential immigrants with truck driving experience. Existing immigration laws have allowed us to successfully recruit a limited number. To do more, the laws must recognize truck driving as a critical skill."
This drew a sharp response from the Teamsters' DeFazio, who said that instead of importing cheap labor, the industry should raise driver pay. "If we don't open the door to immigrants who will work for less, then maybe everybody will have to raise their wages and you won't be at a disadvantage." DeFazio also suggested a federal minimum wage and benefit standard for truck drivers.
"With all due respect, sir," Lofgren told DeFazio, "I don't know that you guys have been proved to be real successful with these kinds of activities."
"Well," DeFazio replied, "it doesn't sound like you've been real successful in your business here, because you want to import labor into a country that has a labor surplus among people who have less than a college education. And, as you pointed out, you're paying people less than in 1980. I don't consider that to be a great success, either. Maybe profitable, but at some point you have to have a middle class, and truck drivers used to be middle class. And if you want to put them in the poverty class then you are moving in the right direction."
This shows the rapaciousness of corporate America. They've driven pay below 1980 levels and it's not good enough. They're all for the free market until it doesn't work in their favor, then they want to change the rules. It's a bit of an open question who's going to buy the crap we haul when no one makes a dime.