Coercion claims by drivers could easily break record in 2022
The latest data compiled by the federal government reveals that complaints of coercion filed by truck drivers could easily break record in 2022.
As of mid April, there had been close to 500 such complaints against employers, shippers and others that truck drivers have filed with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) National Consumer Complaint Database, according to data provided by the agency.
If the trend for the first 14 weeks of the year holds, 2022 will see the most coercion complaints since FMCSA began formally compiling them in 2016 — and close to double the previous high of 966 filed in 2019.
According to FMCSA, coercion occurs when a motor carrier, shipper, receiver or transportation intermediary “threatens to withhold work from, take employment action against, or punish a driver for refusing to operate in violation of certain provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMRs), and the Federal Motor Carrier Commercial Regulations (FMCCRs).”
The agency adopted the coercion rule in 2016 to address the problem by prohibiting employers, shippers and others from coercing drivers to violate hours-of-service limits, which FMCSA may categorize as an ELD coercion, a rule that went into effect in late 2017. Other areas subject to coercion are CDL regulations and drug and alcohol testing rules. The rule also authorizes FMCSA to issue penalties against companies that have coerced drivers.
From FMCSA’s perspective, coercion exists when the following has occurred:
- A motor carrier, shipper, receiver or transportation intermediary requests a driver to perform a task that would result in the driver violating certain provisions of the FMCSRs, HMRs or FMCCRs.
- The driver informs the motor carrier, shipper, receiver or transportation intermediary of the violation that would occur if the task is performed, such as driving over the hours of service limits or creating unsafe driving conditions.
- The motor carrier shipper, receiver or transportation intermediary makes a threat or takes action against the driver’s employment or work opportunities to get the driver to take the load despite the regulatory violation that would occur.
The issue of truck driver coercion was highlighted by U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J), at an April hearing on the National Transportation Safety Board’s 2023 budget request.
During the hearing, Malinowski raised concerns on how coercion of drivers by management — particularly when drivers are pressured by dispatchers to stay on the road without enough rest — contributes to the difficulty trucking companies are having trying to fill cab seats.
“There are many reasons for the driver shortage — high turnover, low pay,” Malinowski told National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy. “Treatment of drivers by management is one of the reasons that doesn’t get enough attention — specifically demands put on some of them to continue to drive when they’re too tired to drive safely.”
To illustrate his point, Malinowski replayed part of a recent episode of comedian John Oliver’s HBO show “Last Week Tonight” on conditions affecting truck drivers showing a dispatcher threatening to dock a driver’s pay if he failed to deliver a load — after the driver told him he was unsafe to drive because he was tired and needed rest.
While the video in the segment replayed by Malinowski was made in 2014, the data from the FMCSA is evidence that the problem has only grown since then.
“That’s one anecdote, but we know that NTSB has looked back at a sample of its major investigations across various modes of transportation and found that a full 20 percent of them identified fatigue as a major contributing factor to accidents,” Malinowski said.
In response, Homendy acknowledged that fatigue among commercial truck drivers has been an NTSB safety concern that needs to be addressed.
“We do have recommendations on hours of service and electronic logbooks,” she said. “We always look at hours of service as part of any investigation and have found significant concerns regarding scheduling and the impact of that scheduling on commercial drivers.”
While reducing fatigue-related accidents in the trucking industry and other transportation modes has been featured frequently on NTSB’s “Most Wanted” list of safety concerns since the list was started in 1990, it did not make the most recent list published in April 2021.
But coercion and its effect on exacerbating fatigue “is definitely still a problem,” said Thomas Corsi, academic director for supply chain management at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
“I serve as an expert witness on accident cases that overwhelmingly occur when drivers are working on not enough sleep and end up plowing into a car because they’re working way too many hours,’’ Corsi said. “They’re on very strict time commitments that a broker or a carrier made to a client, but there are huge safety implications. These guys clearly are really stretched.”