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Trucking industry facing challenges during pandemic

J Rayl trucks
Posted at 4:58 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 18:58:32-04

AKRON, Ohio — Across the country, millions of truckers are not staying home as their work requires them to hit the highways to haul essential food and other goods to stores and businesses.

However, many drivers are facing safety, job security and economic concerns during the coronavirus crisis.

"Anytime there is a disruption in the flow of the economy, it's going to have a huge impact on the trucking industry," said Tom Balzer, the president of the Ohio Trucking Association. "The supply chain that we have in this country is extremely fragile. Any sort of disruption to that throws things in a tailspin."

Ryan Richards, the chief operating officer of J Rayl Transport in Akron, estimated revenue is down about 25% in recent weeks, but the company decided to give over-the-road drivers a 20% raise in April to show support during the stressful time.

He said a handful of drivers who are older or have health concerns have decided not to work during the pandemic, but will be welcomed back when they feel comfortable.

"Most drivers are pretty patriotic. They want to be out there helping," Richards said.

J Rayl has about 400 drivers and 1,200 trailers. The company hauls a mixture of food, home products and raw materials.

"We have those, like in the food industry, they're busier. We do ones in the automotive industry that are obviously much slower. It's just a mix. You do have some customer up, some down," Richards said.

Balzer said the Ohio Trucking Association represents about 1,000 Ohio trucking companies. During a recent survey, Balzer discovered some of the companies have lost 60 to 65% of their business and many of them have laid off workers during the pandemic.

"53.02% had to reduce their number of employees and 38.92% are anticipating even further layoffs," Balzer said.

Balzer indicated that some drivers who travel to multiple states are worried about having enough protection against COVID-19.

"There are a lot of companies and drivers that are very concerned about going into some of these areas such as New York City and Detroit," Balzer said. "The challenge is a lot of these products that they need such as masks and hand sanitizer and those things are not available to them."

Richards said J Rayl bought their drivers cleaning supplies. The company also sends out daily safety messages and human resources employees check in on the truckers.

Beyond that, Richards said the many of the companies serviced by J Rayl are taking their own measures to maintain a safe environment.

"They've went to where you don't have to touch paperwork, don't have to get out of the cabs of the trucks in some cases." Richards said.

Balzer said another concern is that drivers who are unemployed longer than 30 days will need to retested for drug use, and some of the truckers may feel reluctant to go to medical facilities due to the virus.

"With the uncertainty of the coronavirus, getting drivers on board again is going to be a challenge," he added.

Balzer said getting the economy rolling again remains the primary concern for the trucking industry.

"We've got a situation where we've got a lot of people out of work. We've got a lot of manufacturing plants shut down, auto plants shut down, refineries that are not producing," Balzer said. "I think that's the biggest thing on everyone's mind is how do we get this things rolling again?"