With demand for long-haul driver teams outstripping supply, one of the country's largest truckload carriers Monday launched a compensation plan to provide team drivers up to $50,000 in bonuses and four weeks of paid vacation every year.
U.S. Xpress said its new TeamMax Bonus plan boosts the pay of truck drivers willing to make long-haul routes with another team member. Such driver teams are increasingly in demand to help move the growing volume of expedited shipments that e-commerce retailers are demanding as Internet sales continue to grow.
The improved pay levels and benefits for U.S. Xpress team drivers should make them among the best paid in the industry and help U.S. Xpress boost its share of team driver hauls, company president Eric Fuller said Monday.
"With the continued growth of e-commerce, more and more consumers expect their packages to arrive within 1-2 days, not in three or four days," Fuller said. "This dynamic has completely changed how U.S. Xpress supports the shipping demands of our customers today, especially when it comes to major retailers like Amazon, Walmart and others who are driving the need for expedited freight services to record levels in the trucking industry."
Nearly 400,000 people a year in the United States obtain commercial driver licenses (CDLs), but the American Trucking Association estimates there is still a shortage of at least 50,000 drivers due to high turnover, especially among long-haul team drivers most in demand today. The nomadic life and long rides cause many drivers to leave the profession or give up on long-haul driving, especially with the U.S. jobless rate now near full employment rate with only about 4 percent of the workforce looking for jobs.
"As we get into an era of lower unemployment, we struggle to find viable candidates so we are looking at ways to bring more people into the industry, and as a company we are eager to have more people come to U.S. Xpress," Fuller said. "I think this new program puts us at or near the top [for driver compensation)]and I don't think there is a team program out there in the country that can beat this."
Covenant Transport in Chattanooga last month announced a similar team driver bonus plan, which went into effect on Feb. 1. Covenant is paying $1,0000 in bonus money to each driver in one of its driving teams every time they eclipses 60,000 miles together. The team drivers can earn up to $20,000 each, or $40,000 as a team.
The bonus program comes as Covenant aims to grow its team truck count from its 2017 approximate average of 980 in the face of expected demand for team capacity in 2018
"We have team freight," said David Parker, founder and CEO of Covenant Transport Services. "That's important to note, because a lot of carriers bring on team drivers and put them on solo lanes."
Parker, who founded Covenant Transport 32 years ago as a team carrier with wife Jacqueline, said "one of the most frustrating things for a team is being underutilized."
"Teams want long lengths of haul, and that's what we are focused on giving them," he said.
Joey Hogan, president of Covenant Transport Services, said in an increasingly-competitive labor market, the new bonus program also solidifies Covenant's place among top driver employers. "Rewarding people for doing the work you ask them to do is what attracts and retains the type of drivers you are looking for," he said.
The Chattanooga- based U.S. Xpress has more than 7,000 drivers. The company currently generates about 15 percent of its revenues from driver teams that switch off drivers on long-haul shipments to allow a truck to stay on the road virtually around the clock.
Fuller said U.S. Xpress could probably double its share of driver teams on the road if it could get enough drivers.
Driver teams often spend as much as four weeks at a time out of the road. To compensate for the prolonged periods away from home, U.S. Xpress is offering four weeks of paid vacation a year under the TeamMax Bonus offer.
"It's not just about raising pay, it's also about trying to improve driver lifestyles," Fuller said.
Drivers in U.S. Xpress' TeamMAX program will have first priority for the newest trucks, get top priority at the service centers so they have minimal downtime, and can earn up to 82 cents per mile (CPM), which Fuller said is one of the industry's best rates.
Mary Berman, who drives with her husband Larry for U.S. Xpress, said the couple got an $8,000 bonus when they signed on as team drivers "and now we found out we have another bonus package for this year — that's really exciting."
Compensation for the Bermans and other TeamMax drivers at U.S. Xpress are in the top 10 percent in the industry with annual pay levels of $87,500 a year or more per driver, according to the company. U.S. Xpress will pay eligible drivers 82 cents per mile, including a 22 cents per mile monthly mileage bonus, and a 5 cents per mile bonus when drivers are one the road away from home for 45 days or more in a row.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.
This story was updated Feb. 12, 2018, at 11:04 p.m. with more information.