U.S. Xpress boosts driver pay 13 percent to meet increasing demands

photo A truck sits outside of the U.S. Xpress Enterprises building in Chattanooga.

Every week, U.S. Xpress hires 200 drivers for its fleet, trying to meet shipping demands.

And the company could feasibly bump that up to 350, or 400, new drivers a week "for the foreseeable future," according to the company's chief operating officer, Eric Fuller.

Which is why U.S. Xpress is implementing a new pay scale that on average pays 13 percent more per mile for its over-the-road, solo, nondedicated drivers. Such drivers carry freight across 48 states for U.S. Xpress, one of the nation's biggest long-haul trucking firms.

Chattanooga-based U.S. Xpress -- and American trucking companies everywhere -- are scrambling right now to fill positions left by aging truckers, and truckers disqualified or disgruntled with the business because of increasing government regulations, even as the demand for shipped goods rises.

Left behind are positions frowned upon by younger, up-and-coming American workers.

Most of U.S. Xpress' drivers are easily beyond their 20s, company officials say.

And U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers reinforce the age gap, with 40 being the average annual age of an American truck driver.

Trucker stereotypes are partly to blame. The perception of truckers as roughneck, boot-wearing, good old boys hauling America's goods across the country one mile at a time -- dog riding shotgun -- has hurt the industry.

And, people don't consider driving a truck a long-term career.

U.S. Xpress takes on drivers who work for three, four, five months, then quit because it was just an "until something better comes along" gig.

Fewer drivers hang in there and do the job for decades, like in the past, despite trucker pay being on par with most jobs in terms of income.

According to the BLS, Tennessee truck drivers make, on average, $40,000 a year.

Fuller said Tuesday that brand-new solo, long-distance drivers can potentially make more than that.

"We really want to make it a career path," he said.

And Fuller said the pay increase for drivers is not meant to favor them. It's that when company officials looked at salaries across the board, most jobs at U.S. Xpress paid in the top 5 or 10 percent of national averages for their position -- except for solo, over-the-road drivers.

And the pay increase is intended to lure more drivers to the company as it seeks to fulfill shipping demands. And to keep current U.S. Xpress drivers at U.S. Xpress.

"We wouldn't be in business without drivers," he said.

U.S. Xpress is continually hiring drivers, and those interested should visit www.usxjobs.com or call 866-603-4371.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.