The following is an update from Teamsters National Freight Division Director Ernie Soehl.
We continue to find ourselves in unprecedented situations in the freight industry. Unfortunately, it appears that things are going to get worse before they get better. We have seen a few terminals this week where an employee tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. At one terminal, a lower-level supervisor tested positive and the terminal was temporarily shut down while it was disinfected. There are, however, approximately 18 members and six non-bargaining unit employees who had been in contact with that supervisor, and they have now been placed on a mandatory 14-day quarantine. That terminal has since reopened. At another location with a different company, the terminal was also temporarily closed, disinfected and affected employees similarly placed into quarantine status. In all cases, the appropriate governmental authorities were promptly contacted.
Again, it is critically important that all freight members maintain the highest hygiene standards and follow the CDC’s recommendations. The companies appear to be cooperating in this regard to the extent possible.
We are continuing to urge the companies to temporarily convert “laydown” runs into “meet and turns” so that drivers do not have to sleep in hotels and can return home. Again, it is not possible for all runs, but every little bit that we can do to minimize public contact helps. Likewise, we are urging the companies to minimize the number of individuals that get into and out of the tractors whenever possible. We have also urged the companies to relax restrictions on taking vacation and personal leave so that displaced drivers can access their leave.
Overall, freight companies are suffering nearly across the board (union and non-union) as volumes drop amid customer closures and customers seeking to push off payments. Corporate stock prices and earnings are falling at most every company. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the freight sector of the economy will likely be particularly hard hit.
This week, we are looking at approximately a 20-percent drop in volumes overall. As a result, we are also seeing an increasing number of layoffs. Obviously, the freight levels differ by company and by terminal so not every terminal is experiencing the same level of work. Nevertheless, the layoffs are starting to mount. We will also likely see some short-term terminal consolidations by the companies. Unfortunately, the layoffs will continue to get worse as the COVID-19 virus spreads and this national emergency continues.
Some of the Health and Welfare Funds have made modifications to address displaced workers and are providing some mechanisms for increased and/or continued coverage. Each fund is different, however, and many employees on layoff may face a loss of coverage. We would urge that in these terrible times, the Health and Welfare Funds, particularly those with significant reserves, would explore ways to provide continued coverage. People should contact their funds directly if they have questions.
Finally, I would like to again express my sincere thanks and appreciation to our brave and tireless members who have dedicated themselves to keeping the country’s critical lines of transportation rolling.