'It's something I never thought I'd experience' local truck driver shortage impacting company, customers | WHEC.com

'It's something I never thought I'd experience' local truck driver shortage impacting company, customers

Charles Molineaux
Updated: September 26, 2021 11:19 AM
Created: September 25, 2021 09:56 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC)—  A Finger Lakes trucking company says it's struggling with the same worker shortage as employers across the country, but that's also affecting the people those trucks deliver to.

Some major stores are now experiencing shortages of merchandise because of COVID and manpower-related supply chain problems. It's a familiar story for Leonard's Express in Farmington.

"It's something I never thought I'd experience," CEO Ken Johnson said.

Johnson says the company has 20 brand new trucks, some so fresh they still have plastic wrap on the seats, and no license plates yet. Where he says he's struggling, is for truckers. His fleet of 650 vehicles is short by about 35 drivers and about half a dozen garage technicians. 

"We've had months where we did all right hiring drivers," Johnson said. "There are other months where the phones hardly rang and the applications just didn't come in." 

The shortage of truckers has been affecting industries across the country as it throws kinks into national supply chains. The situation is to the point that retail giant Costco is now rationing merchandise, setting limits on how many paper towels and tissue paper, bottled water, and cleaning supplies customers can buy at a time.  The company blames a number of factors including a shortage of trucks and drivers.

"Customers are looking for more capacity and us not being able to fill those empty trucks, the void that we're struggling to fill, we'd like to fill because the opportunities are there," Johnson said.

Leonard's Express works for a number of customers, including Wegmans, often shipping fresh and frozen food across the country, and  Johnson says he sees the demand, and gets frustrated when he doesn't have the people to ramp up for more business.

"We are turning down more freight than we would like to," Johnson said. "We have more opportunities than we have ever had. Really"

Industry analysts agree with Johnson saying it's gotten hard to find drivers willing to sign on for grueling long haul trucking, so one approach has become higher pay, signing bonuses, and vigorous recruiting, which means bigger expenses, which get passed along to Leonard's customers, and to the customer's customers.

"Fuel has been going up, as well as recruiting costs and the labor cost, so we are obviously, having to share that with our customers, and they are sharing with their customers," Johnson said. "It's creating a little bit of inflation." 

Johnson says finding drivers has been tough for several years but that the situation has gotten much harder, and more costly, in the last year and a half. It's something he says is definitely showing up when we head out to the store.

"I'll see my friends complaining about the prices of certain products going up and I just, sort of, smile and keep to myself because I know the reason," Johnson said.

Johnson says he got a striking reminder of the driver shortage, and how widespread it is in just the past couple of days. He still has a commercial driver's license of his own and he got a letter from the state inviting him to consider working as a school bus driver.

For more information on how you can become a truck driver for Leonard’s Express, click here.


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