Truckers Spend Less Time With Families During Pandemic: While national media outlets warn of supply shortages due to COVID-19, business-owners and truck drivers in the Red River Valley adjust to their new way of life and consider how the business will be different after the pandemic.
Ken Foltz, vice president of Foltz Trucking out of Detroit Lakes, Minn. and its subsidiary F & M Transport Inc, said the biggest change his company has seen during the pandemic is adjusting the modern-day trucker’s way of life.
“For the drivers, they are seeing a lot of more isolation,” he said. “When they pull up to the receivers, they do all paperwork electronically. Then on the road, most places of business are closed, so many truckers are spending more time in their cabs.”
Since the pandemic outbreak, Foltz said support staff, like dispatchers and administrators, have started to work off-site or in shifts. Mechanics, who service their trucks at Foltz, work in two shifts. Besides adjusting their staff’s working environment, Foltz said dispatchers observed changes in the number of incoming shipments.
“We’ve seen a surge of the outgoing of shipments to Indiana or Ohio but struggle, at times, to schedule loads coming back to the Red River Valley,” he explained.
Foltz Trucking, which mainly ships animal food including feed for livestock and house pets, said its shipments’ demand —despite the lack of incoming trucks — should stay relatively stable but other shipments types, like consumer products, may ebb and flow.
“People who stocked up on toilet paper will not need as much in the future, so trucking companies who mainly ship those types of materials may be in trouble,” he said.
Although Foltz is not worried about his business, which has been in operation for more than 60 years, he does think other trucking companies could lose business if the pandemic continues to disrupt shipping.
Last December, Celadon Group Inc., one of North America’s largest truckload carriers, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and winded down its business operations.
Now, because of the pandemic, Foltz says more companies could face the same fate.
“Because of the pandemic, some companies could experience a downturn in business,” he said. “Although, truck drivers should be able to find a new job.”
If some trucking companies close this could help the industries long-standing staffing problems, Foltz said.
“Some trucking companies experience high turnover yearly,” he said. “So if one trucking company does go bankrupt during the pandemic, then other companies could easily find drivers they need.”
And the amount of people obtaining their commercial driver’s license (CDL) hasn’t dramatically decreased, despite all Department of Motor Vehicle sites in North Dakota being physically closed to the public with testing available by appointment.
“CDL drivers are essential to the state’s economy as they work to provide COVID-19 supplies and move business and agricultural commodities throughout the nation,” said Brad Schaffer, driver license division director.
Schaffer said on average, 1980 CDLs are issued every year, or about 165 a month.
Isolation now and later
Truck drivers, like Kevin Fast of Viking, Minn., said they’ve always liked the freedom truck driving provides, but Fast has noticed the little interaction he experiences on the road has shrunk to almost nothing. Foltz echos this sentiment as he describes the changes his company has made.
“Now, since the pandemic’s outbreak, drivers do not interact with the shippers or receivers and do electronic paperwork instead,” Foltz said.
Foltz and Fast said drivers likely spend most of their time in their cabs, turning their small quarters into kitchens when they install microwaves to make on-the-go meals.
In addition to eating in their trucks, Foltz said some of the drivers at his company are choosing to pick up route assignments one after another instead of going home.
“We are seeing drivers stay out for longer, sometimes for a month at a time,” he said.
This extended period away from families can be a strain on families. Orianah Fast, Kevin Fast’s daughter, worries about her dad’s safety.
“I’m worried about his safety, both with not truly being able to abide by the social distancing mandate and then just him being on the road in general,” she said. “Like, what if he did contract the coronavirus, and he’s in Florida or something? Not only is he somewhere that is not here, but we couldn’t really put his mind at ease by being nearby.”
While the re-opening of certain states may change the truck drivers’ work, Foltz said some things, like the electronic billing, will most likely become standard operating procedure during the next few years.
Fast, who expects things to “go back to normal” in a few months, is thankful for the support he feels from the community.
“I feel like a broken record when I say this to people, but everything you own at one time was on the truck —food, clothing, everything — before it arrives at the store. Most people think it just magically appears in there. I hope after this crisis, people will continue to remember what truck drivers do.”