- Truck drivers are becoming increasingly worried that they won’t be able to get home if they get the coronavirus.
- Business Insider contacted 11 of the largest public trucking companies in North America to ask how they will help drivers. Few supplied concrete polices.
- There are nearly two million long-haul truck drivers in the US. They are more likely than the average population to be obese, have diabetes, and not have health insurance — making them more vulnerable to experience complications from the coronavirus.
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The truck driver started coughing and feeling feverish on a Tuesday. They sent a quick email to their employer Marten Transport, one of the largest trucking companies in the US.
The driver, who asked to be anonymous for fear of retribution, was worried they had the coronavirus, which has killed over 6,000 people in the US. (Business Insider confirmed using pay stubs that the driver does work for Marten.)
However, Marten refused to help pay the driver for the time it would take to drive the truck back to the yard in which their car was parked. A senior human resources employee at Marten, which generated $843 million in revenue last year, instead encouraged the driver to quarantine in their truck.
“If a driver is sick many are just taking a few days in their truck to assess their health and then return to work again because it isn’t Covid-19 they are experiencing but flu, colds, allergies etc.,” wrote Marten’s HR representative in an email to the truck driver.
About 90% of the United States is under lockdown, meaning residents in 38 states are going only out for essential activities, like buying groceries or medicine. Many are working remotely.
But America’s 1.9 million truck drivers can’t live or work at home. They drive across the US for work, sleep in their trucks, shower at truck stops, and pick up grub from a fast food joint or eat what they can make on a hot plate in their tractor.
Meanwhile, truckers are the reason America’s grocery stores, online retailers, hospitals, gas stations, and even ATMs have remained stocked; truckers move all of these goods across the country, and are a crucial part of “final mile” deliveries. It’s estimated that grocery stores would be empty within two or three days if truck drivers stopped working.
Hundreds have emailed Business Insider in recent weeks sharing how their jobs have changed since the coronavirus pandemic hit the US. Many shared that they’re terrified of the moment that they might start coughing, thousands of miles away from home and alone.
“There are many concerns being 3,000 miles from home,” Todd Hogan, a driver for a mid-sized food trucking company, told Business Insider. “What happens if I get sick with COVID-19? Will I ever see my family again?”
Trucking companies did not reveal policies on how they would get truck drivers home
By revenue, Marten is the 48th-largest trucking company in the for-hire sector, which moves freight for third-party customers. (Private carriers, by contrast, refers to the internal trucking fleets at companies like Halliburton or Tyson Foods, which move their own goods.)
Business Insider contacted the 10 largest companies in the for-hire segment to learn if Marten’s quarantine policies were a quirk. But many of them refused to reveal their sick-leave or transportation policies.
Representatives for J.B. Hunt and Old Dominion Freight Line declined to comment. Schneider National did not respond. YRC Worldwide and Knight-Swift responded but did not provide a comment before this article’s publication.
Landstar is providing $1,000 per week, up to two weeks, for drivers who test positive for coronavirus. Truck drivers who work for Landstar own their trucks, and then lease the trucks to Landstar.
A representative for TFI International, which is based in Montreal, Quebec, also pointed to a press release saying that the company will make available “additional financial assistance measures for employees.” The company declined to provide specifics.
The giants of the for-hire industry — XPO Logistics, UPS, and FedEx — provided Business Insider with information around each company’s sick-leave policies, which have been expanded amid the coronavirus pandemic. UPS, whose long-haul drivers are unionized, is providing 10 days of additional sick leave for employees who are diagnosed with coronavirus or live with someone who is diagnosed. XPO has offered the same benefit. FedEx is offering 14 days of paid leave for the same situations.
However, representatives for the three companies did not explain how transporting drivers back home would work. For XPO’s part, few of its drivers are long-haul.
For Marten’s part, Susan Deetz, who is the company’s director of human resources, told Business Insider in a phone interview that support for drivers who report coronavirus symptoms is done on a “case-by-case” basis. Deetz said truck drivers who report coronavirus symptoms are offered telemedicine services, and that personnel decisions are done based on the advice of that medical professional.
According to emails provided to Business Insider, telemedicine was not offered to the Marten truck driver who has coronavirus symptoms. This truck driver was, however, given a number to check if they qualified for health insurance.
Truck drivers are terrified of getting stranded
Truck drivers are vital to keeping North America functioning at all times, but even more so during a pandemic, and trucking companies find themselves under major pressure to keep supplies moving.
But in the absence of clearly-communicated policies around sick leave, truck drivers are starting to panic about how they’ll get home in the worst-case scenario. Truckers are also more likely than the average population to be smokers, have diabetes, and not have health insurance.
Katherine Cook, a truck driver based in North Carolina who hauls medical goods, doesn’t know where she would quarantine if she started coughing. “Let’s say we are 700 miles from home,” Cook told Business Insider. “Where do we go to quarantine? I don’t see a motel letting us stay there for the worry of their other patrons. We have to be extra careful out here.”
So Cook, who drives with her husband, has kept cautious since early March, weeks before many Americans understood the threat of the coronavirus. She stocked up on hand sanitizer, keeps Lysol in her truck, and is making sure her fuel tank never gets below half-way, in case of an emergency.
Getting stranded on the road is a fear, and a too-common experience, among truck drivers. When trucking companies go bankrupt, for instance, many drivers might learn about it just as the company shuts down operations. That leaves them with a week or two of unpaid wages, an $80,000 big rig that they don’t own, the responsibility to return said rig, and no way to get back home besides delving into their own savings for a Greyhound ticket. (A truck driver in the US earns a median of $43,600, leaving many without a financial safety net.)
Even more terrifying is the prospect of dying or getting seriously injured on the road. In lieu of corporate support, charities like Truckers’ Final Mile pay to transport the bodies of deceased truck drivers home when their families can’t afford to do so.
The fear of getting stranded with a deadly illness like the coronavirus has led Tony, a truck driver who works for one large trucking company, to lose trust in his employer. “These truck companies are giddy about the surge in supplies for right now,” he told Business Insider. “They don’t care about much about our safety.”
Quarantining in a truck is not advised by medical experts
Medical professionals speaking to Business Insider questioned the efficacy of policies like Marten’s, which requires truck drivers to self-quarantine in their truck tractor until it is apparent that they don’t have the coronavirus. A typical tractor is equipped with a mini-fridge, a desk or table area, a cooking appliance like a hot plate, and a bed. It does not have plumbing.
Charlie Yingling, who is the interim associate dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing, said a truck without plumbing is not a suitable place to quarantine. “It’s better than being homeless,” Yingling said, “but better than that still is being at home.”
Like most Americans, truck drivers do not have access to testing to confirm whether their cough is a case of seasonal allergies or the coronavirus. Experts agreed that telemedicine is the best option, but telemedicine options for truckers are relatively sparse.
Keeping a trucker with a mild coronavirus case parked at a rest stop could have serious public health consequences, Yingling said. Truck drivers who are waiting out the course of their coronavirus in a parking lot could infect others when they use the bathroom, get food, shower, or perform other basic tasks that can’t be done in a truck.
“Even that individual would be using public appliances where they will potentially interact with other people who may be uninfected,” Yingling said.
“That almost excludes that individual from bathing or using the toilet,” he added. “They likely have no choice but to put others at risk to carry out their basic hygiene routines.”
But keeping drivers quarantined in their trucks saves a trucking company money and the hassle of transporting a truck driver and their vehicle back home.
Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the most reasonable action for an employer with a truck driver with a mild case of the coronavirus would be to instruct them to drive home immediately. A more severe case could be checked into a motel or hotel and checked on regularly.
Whether these support networks exist — or will exist — is not clear. And truck drivers are only getting more panicked in the meantime.
Barbara Cooke, a driver based out of rural Missouri, is concerned that coronavirus will quickly spread among drivers. “Once COVID-19 takes hold among truck drivers, it’s going to spread like a gas fire and we’re going to go down like dominoes,” she said.
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