Trucking

'Truckers are first responders' and need help during coronavirus crisis, industry group says

Key Points
  • The U.S. economy needs truck drivers, yet the economic and health risks they face during the coronavirus pandemic haven't been addressed yet, according to the CEO of an industry group.
  • "Realistically, truckers are first responders. Our whole economy runs on trucks," said Todd Spencer, president and CEO of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
  • However, Spencer said government relief efforts so far "have generally gone over the top of truckers."
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PPE should be more available to truck drivers: Independent Drivers Association's Spencer

The U.S. economy needs truck drivers, yet the economic and health risks they face during the coronavirus pandemic haven't been addressed yet, according to the CEO of an industry group.

"Realistically, truckers are first responders. Our whole economy runs on trucks," Todd Spencer, president and CEO of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told CNBC's Kelly Evans on Monday. 

"Everything that we need, the vital things in the stores, they only get there by truck," Spencer added on "The Exchange."

However, Spencer said government relief efforts so far "have generally gone over the top of truckers." He said that while 96% of truckers work in fleets that contain 20 or fewer trucks, programs created to aid small businesses during the Covid-19 outbreak "really miss them completely." 

Truckers are experiencing a squeeze on the rate they receive to haul goods, Spencer said. The rate has "pretty much been cut in half," he said, limiting any potential benefits to a lower cost of fuel. 

"They're facing a real economic crisis to be able to continue to operate, not to mention the fact that they actually are on the front line in the battle against coronavirus," Spencer said. 

"They really are critical. They go everywhere. They go into the hot zones," Spencer said.

President Donald Trump on Thursday held an event at the White House focused on the role truck drivers play in the U.S. economy.

U.S. President Donald Trump puts his hand on the hood of a tractor trailer long haul truck before delivering remarks "celebrating America’s truckers" during an event on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 16, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters

Earlier this month, Spencer's organization wrote a letter to Trump, in which Spencer discussed the need for Covid-19 testing for truckers and plans to quarantine drivers who may be infected while on the road. 

"We don't think it's realistic that the only option they have is to quarantine in a truck. We think far more could be done there," Spencer said Monday. 

Drivers are increasingly concerned about their health, Spencer said, adding the number of them who are exposed and get infected with Covid-19 is likely going to rise. 

For those reasons, he said he believes there should be greater efforts made to provide drivers with personal protective equipment, which hopefully helps them avoid infection and stay on the job.

"That's been a challenge. We understand FEMA is stepping up some to provide some of that, but we haven't seen it yet," he said. 

FEMA did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.