The start of 2021 comes with a new presidential administration in the United States as President-elect Joe Biden takes over as commander-in-chief on January 20. A change in national leadership is certain to have an impact on businesses and industries across the country; many wait with bated breath to see what changes the new administration ushers in.
The trucking industry is no different. After a year of pandemic-induced economic recession, some owners/operators are hopeful new leadership will return the economy back to pre-pandemic levels while others are wary of how their day-to-day lives will differ with a new president. At the moment, there are three significant issues in the trucking industry that could be affected by a new administration: America’s infrastructure, clean energy, and labor laws.
The president-elect has made it clear his administration plans to work toward rebuilding America’s infrastructure countrywide, including the roads and bridges that support the economy. According to trucking.org, when the House of Representatives met in 2020 to discuss the Invest in America Act, Bill Sullivan, the Executive Vice President of Advocacy for the American Trucking Associations (ATA) argued that “an injection of real capital into our degraded infrastructure will jumpstart the economy—creating hundreds of thousands of good-paying, private-sector jobs in blue-collar trades—and strengthen its commercial arteries to support long-term growth.”
Biden and the Democrats’ Senate majority (due to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote) could push legislation through that would invest billions of dollars into rebuilding our country’s infrastructure. The improved roads would benefit the trucking industry in the long-term, possibly saving billions of dollars; the American Transportation Institute estimates critical bottlenecks caused by poor infrastructure cost the transportation industry more than $74 billion annually. While improving the infrastructure is a great idea, the amount of construction required for the process would inevitably lead to more critical bottlenecks on driving routes—likely for a number of years.
Clean energy has always been a point of contention within the trucking industry. Many drivers want to protect the environment, but legislative proposals to do so typically come at a great financial expense to owner/operators who would have to purchase new “green” trucks. Biden has already stated he plans to “put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050,” which could mean electric vehicles for the transportation industry.
Going to net-zero emissions could have repercussions for the trucking industry. A major benefit is that electric trucks cost about 20% less in operating expenses compared to diesel trucks. The glaring downside, however, is the upfront costs for an electric truck are sizable. There are currently almost two million semi-trucks on the road today, which means an investment of over $300 billion just to purchase new electric trucks for the entire industry. The transportation industry will want to keep a keen eye on the future of Biden’s clean energy plan.
Another major difference to expect with the transition of power from Republicans to Democrats is a change in federal labor laws. The Biden administration is likely to put a pause on a recent Department of Labor rule that clarifies who is classified as an independent contractor and who is classified as an employee. Biden has also voiced plans to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. While this may not directly impact the salaries of drivers, it may increase the salary of non-driving employees in the industry, and carriers may reflect the increased expenses on drivers’ rates.
The Biden administration also strongly supports the adoption of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which “provisions instituting financial penalties on companies that interfere with workers’ organizing efforts, including firing or otherwise retaliating against workers.” The PRO Act would make it easier for truckers to unionize and bargain collectively. A final labor-related proposal from the Biden administration gives every employee 12 weeks of paid family medical leave mandated by the United States. Providing 12 weeks of paid family medical leave could impact the trucking industries if we see the expenses passed down from carrier companies.
As the new year begins with a shift in leadership, the United States continues to battle a pandemic and economic uncertainty, both of which have impacted the trucking industry. With President-elect Biden entering the White House, the next four years will likely bring about several notable changes across industries. The trucking industry, specifically, needs to be prepared for how these changes—in infrastructure, clean energy, and labor laws—will reshape the landscape of the transportation industry in both short-term and long-term ways.