Article featured in JR News | Barbara Perreaux
Bison’s drivers under added pressure to keep goods moving despite tightening constraints
This summer, Britain saw empty store shelves and long lines of cars waiting outside gas stations amid a shortage of truck drivers able to move consumer goods and deliver fuel.
According to experts, the labour shortage that is plaguing the U.K. is not exclusively a British problem, but one that is now playing out around the world as countries face potential shortfalls and supply chain issues this holiday season and beyond.
“What people need to appreciate is that this issue has been brewing beneath the surface for some time,” says Trevor Fridfinnson, Chief Operating Officer at Bison Transport. “If we aren’t able to keep people working in this industry by making the jobs what they should be and paying them what they should be paid, we’re going to be subject to these kinds of issues in North America.”
Changing work conditions, mass retirements, low pay, drivers abandoning the industry during the pandemic, along with Brexit restrictions causing long queues at ports and border crossings, have been listed as key reasons for the shortage in the U.K. – and have added to the strain on the global supply chain.
“In North America, we are seeing more than the usual delays in how goods typically flow from where they originate to how they ultimately get into the hands of the end user. The issue has become quite pronounced in the past six to nine months,” Fridfinnson says. “While we routinely deal with scenarios that cause some level of strain on the system, this current situation is notable for its severity and the length of time it is expected to continue.”
Among the most concerning pressure points are ports on the west coast from California north to Vancouver. Fridfinnson says that issues related to the transport of goods across the Pacific is causing a ripple effect across North American markets and putting a pinch on road carriers and rail providers.
“Shipping delays and cost escalations have caused some clients to lease their own ocean vessels in an attempt to gain more control of the supply chain through vertical integration. The problem is what it does to supply and demand. There is so much demand in Vancouver to move goods right now that some providers will resort to repositioning empty trailers and containers from other parts of the country to the port where they are needed most.”
Fridfinnson says Bison’s approach is to protect and inform its loyal customers. “As their logistics partner, we are actively consulting and educating our clients, particularly those that ship between Canada and the U.S., but in fact all clients, as to what these strains on the supply chain mean to our ‘cost to serve.’”
For example, the costs for equipment, fuel, parts and labour have all increased dramatically. Bison has and continues to be tactful to ensure that it maintains access to these critical resources by leveraging supplier relationships, advance purchasing, and extending the life cycle of assets where safe and appropriate.
“Given that, we are asking and expecting our customers to participate in covering off these cost increments in order for us to be able to protect their supply chain and continue to provide the service they have come to rely on.”
Greater Respect and Appreciation for Drivers
Fridfinnson believes that the supply chain constraints have put greater focus on an area in desperate need of more public attention: respect and appreciation for drivers.
“Bison has always put the highest value on having safe, professional drivers and owner-operators,” he continues. “That’s why we’ve doubled down on efforts to support the people driving for us, recognizing the ever-changing and constantly challenging environment they face, and the increased demands placed on them during COVID – all of which are about to become exacerbated further starting in January.”
Tighter restrictions in moving goods between Canada and the U.S. have created what the industry has termed as a “thickening of the border,” heaping more constraints onto drivers and purveyors like Bison in recent years. In addition to random drug testing, additional security checks and scrutiny to be able to operate and haul dangerous materials, crossings have become heavily administrated due to advance electronic notification requirements.
“Unlike a civilian that can drive up to present themselves at the border, our trucks and drivers are subject to electronic pre-notification before their arrival. If there’s any discrepancy in the information submitted in advance at the border, the carrier and potentially, the driver, are subject to fines.”
In January, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will demand that all commercial drivers, including those essential workers previously cleared to cross the border at the height of the pandemic, must present proof of full vaccination before entering the United States.
“As an industry and as a business, we are working diligently on how to manage this new legal requirement while at the same time, ensure we keep goods moving in North America,” Fridfinnson says.
“Recognizing that this is a delicate balancing act, Bison has been diligently promoting the safe and effective vaccines we have access to and encouraging our workforce to get fully vaccinated. Through data collected by employee surveys, we realize there is a small percentage of our workforce population that does not view vaccinations as a viable option or one that is appropriate for them. That’s something we’re working through on a case by case basis, knowing it’s absolutely going to put another strain on what is already a strained supply chain network.”
In the meantime, Bison is reviewing what more it can do to support and encourage its drivers, especially those who must regularly cross the border.
“It’s important to remember that in addition to all of the imposed requirements, restrictions and regulations they deal with, cross-border drivers also face unique pressures from a lifestyle standpoint because they are inherently away from home longer and more often.”
For these reasons, Bison recently announced the largest single-time wage increase for cross-border drivers that the company has ever done.
“We want to make sure that the compensation we offer measures up with the amount of respect we have for the drivers and owner-operators who are able and willing to do the demanding job of cross-border driving for us,” Fridfinnson says. “We know that if it weren’t for them, Bison wouldn’t have a service to offer.”