Demand for truck capacity remains high but the lack of qualified drivers to meet the need is even greater. Elevated consumer spending has resulted in a peaklike freight market for more than a year now, and the reasons why driver employment has been lagging are well known.

Many of the drivers who left the industry at the pandemic’s onset over fears of contracting the virus have yet to return. Low driver school enrollments due to COVID protocols and some 85,000 operators with failed drug tests (according to Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse data) are just some of the obstacles the fleets face.

The result has been a race to raise pay in efforts to recruit and retain drivers even as the driver market may be loosening somewhat.

Chicago-based intermodal trucking company Mark-it Express said last week it was raising pay for company drivers in Illinois. Drivers with a hazardous materials endorsement will earn $30 an hour while drivers without the certification will receive $27 per hour.

President Tony Apa told FreightWaves the new rates represent increases of 20% to 30% and potentially more than 40% for drivers attaining their hazmat certification. He described the level of the increase as “a historic high and a breaking point in the industry.”

Drivers in the company’s two other terminals, Detroit and Kansas City, Kansas will also see wage increases.

Refrigerated carrier J.S. Helwig & Son announced last month a pay bump of 4 cents per mile.

The Terrell, Texas-based company, which operates a fleet of more than 350 tractors and 600 trailers, said the increase takes its per-mile pay to 55 cents for starting drivers. Drivers will receive a raise after six months and then annually, allowing them to earn up to 62 cents per mile. Helwig has also added a bonus and reduced tenure requirements for pay increases.

This was the carrier’s second increase in the past year. Average pay for its drivers has increased by 10 cents per mile in that time.

“As a former driver myself, I have always been an advocate for drivers and their wages. I know it is a very difficult and stressful job. Every hardworking driver deserves every penny they earn,” says James Helwig, founder and CEO. “We sincerely want Helwig to be a driver’s home, a place they are happy to work and a place they can earn a great income while saving for retirement!”

The company said additional driver benefits would be announced “by the end of the year.”

Mansfield, Texas-based BCB Transport recently raised pay for the second time in 2021. The latest increase was the largest raise in the fleet’s more than decade in existence.

The raise bumps pay to an equivalent of 53 cents per mile for new hires, 65 cents per mile for drivers with five years at the company and 69 cents per mile for drivers with eight years at BCB. Also, every driver will receive a $1,000 bonus regardless of time with the company.

The carrier said it will only hire drivers with at least 30 months of commercial driving experience, and applicants can’t have worked at more than two fleets in any year. 

BCB runs a fleet of 300 power units and has approximately 125 owner-operators, who drive almost exclusively for the company. The company’s average length of haul is 575 to 600 miles.

Blackhawk Transport told FreightWaves its streak of double-digit annual growth has been “fueled by driver pay increases.”

The Beloit, Wisconsin-based dedicated carrier said its ability to appropriately manage recruitment and retention has allowed it to grow to more than 700 drivers since it started in 2011 with 93.

So far in 2021, Blackhawk has raised pay by double-digit percentages. W2 company drivers in certain locations at Blackhawk can now see annual compensation of more than $85,000.

“Our goal is to provide our drivers with a variety of dedicated account choices significantly above the average W2s for the area, thereby elevating driver retention, safety and customer service,” said Mike Holloway, president and CEO.

The company also touts lower deductibles and premiums in its health insurance program. 

Blackhawk has 48 locations across the country, 11 of which have opened this year.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Todd Maiden.

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