Truckers Exempt From Vaccine Mandate, Labor Secretary Says

John Sommers II for Transport Topics

[Ensure you have all the info you need in these unprecedented times. Subscribe now.]

Truck drivers traveling alone in their cabs are exempt from a new interim final rule mandating that employees for large private companies get COVID-19 vaccinations, according to a statement by U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

“If you’re a truck driver and you’re outside, you’re in a cab driving by yourself, this doesn’t impact you. If you’re a worker outside working in the area, this doesn’t impact you,” Walsh told Philadelphia television station WPVI on Nov. 4.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Nov. 4 announced the rule mandating that private companies with 100 or more employees ensure that their workers are COVID-19 vaccinated, or if not, are tested at least weekly. The rule is set to take effect Jan. 4, 2022.

While the rule included an estimated number of “truck transportation” employees and entities that would be covered by the mandate, prior to the statement from the Labor Secretary it was not clear whether truck drivers fell under a provision stating the possibility that employees who work alone or outside, as most truck drivers do, could be exempt.

American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear in a Nov. 5 statement reiterated the industry’s view that truckers should be exempt from the requirement, and expressed optimism about Walsh’s comment.

“As we made clear in our comments to the administration prior to the rule’s publication, drivers spend the vast majority of their workday alone in the cab and outside,” Spear said. “The rule published yesterday exempts employees who exclusively work outdoors or remotely and have minimal contact with others indoors, and all indications thus far from the Department of Labor suggest this exemption does apply to the commercial truck driver population.”

Spear continued, “While we complete our due diligence to confirm that fact through official channels, we see quotes from Labor Secretary Walsh as an enormous victory for our association and industry. Given the nationwide shortage of truck drivers, it is vital that our industry has the relief it needs to keep critical goods moving, including food, fuel, medicine and the vaccine itself.”

He added, “We continue to believe OSHA is using extraordinary authority unwisely, applying it across all industries at an arbitrary threshold of 100 employees that fails to factor in actual risks. We are weighing all options of recourse to ensure every segment of our industry’s workforce is shielded from the unintended consequences of this misguided mandate.”

The interim rule also requires employers in a variety of covered industries to ensure that their employees who are not vaccinated undergo regular testing and wear a face covering at work.

Specific to transportation, OSHA said the interim final rule covers an estimated 2,597 “truck transportation” entities, 15,684 establishments, 878,429 total employees and 738,360 covered employees.

The industry in recent weeks has urged that trucking companies not be required to comply with the mandate due to potential severe disruption to the supply chain. Bill Sullivan, ATA Executive Vice President of Advocacy, told TT that there was serious concern throughout the trucking industry that the vaccination mandate could result in some drivers retiring or switching to smaller employers. A survey of ATA member fleets found that about 37% of drivers polled indicated they would quit their jobs or move to another company if a mandate were adopted at the companies where they worked.

“Even if only 4% quit, that would be a catastrophe,” Sullivan said. “We agree with the president’s goal. We aren’t anti-vax. We are encouraging employees to be voluntarily vaccinated.”

OSHA filed the 490-page interim rule in the Federal Register on Nov. 5.

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing below or go here for more info: