HAVE THE SIGHT OF EMPTY STORE SHELVES SENT A CHILL DOWN YOUR SPINE? NOT TO WORRY AMERICA’S TRUCKERS ARE ON THE LINE!

When Americans first heard about the closures and cancellations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many responded by preparing for quarantine and panic buying. An official quarantine or even shelter in place, had not been put into effect, but the
reports from other countries response to the coronavirus proved frightening.

However, those empty store shelves were less a reflection of scarcity and more a reflection of a shockwave in the supply chain. Suppliers and distributers had to reconfigure a new smooth
efficient delivery method to reanimate a stunned system. Through it all one of the most unseen heroes of the pandemic crisis are America’s truck drivers. Kendra Hems, president of the Trucking Association of New York says the supplies are there, and the truckers are ready to deliver them to your local stores.

Aired on April 2, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> HI.

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN OF 'METROFOCUS.'

THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS PRODUCED A LOT OF UNINTENDED SIDE EFFECTS THAT ARE ONLY CAUSING PEOPLE MORE STRESS AND ANXIETY.

ONE OF THOSE IS THE SIGHT OF EMPTY STORE SHELVES.

PANIC BUYING, ONE OF THE INITIAL RESPONSES AROUND THE UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS WAS A SHOCK NOT ONLY TO SHOPPERS, BUT TO THE SUPPLY CHAIN AS WELL.

BUT THE CHAIN IS FAR FROM BROKEN.

IT JUST NEEDED TIME TO ADJUST TO OUR NEW LEVEL OF DEMANDMENT JOINING ME NOW TO TALK ABOUT THOSE ADJUSTMENTS IS KENDRA HEMS, PRESIDENT OF THE TRUCKING ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK.

KENDRA, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

JENNA, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME.

THIS ENTIRE STORY REALLY CAME ABOUT FROM THE FACT THAT I WAS REACHING A POINT WHERE I WAS ONLY SEEING TRUCKS ON THE THROUGHWAY.

I WASN'T SEEING ANY OTHER CARS REALLY, AND I REALIZED THAT TRUCKERS ARE ONE OF THE MANY UNSUNG HEROES OF THE SCRISIS WE'RE ADJUSTING TO.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ADJUSTMENTS ARE YOU SEEING?

WHEN IT STARTED WE WERE SEEING THE EMPTY SHELVES, THE PANIC BUYING, THE HOARDING.

BECAUSE OF THAT IT WAS MAKING PEOPLE VERY NERVOUS THAT THERE WAS A SHORTAGE, WHETHER IT WAS TOILETRIES, CLEANING SUPPLIES OR FOOD AND WATER, BUT THAT REALLY WASN'T THE CASE.

THERE'S PLENTY OF FOOD IN THE SUPPLY CHAIN.

PLENTY OF TOILETRIES IN THE SUPPLY CHAIN.

THE DEMAND INCREASED EXPONENTIALLY ALMOST OVERNIGHT.

SO THE TRUCKING COMPANIES AND MANUFACTURERS JUST WEREN'T PREPARED FOR THAT TO HAPPEN SO QUICKLY.

WE JUST NEEDED TIME TO ADJUST.

THOSE SHELVES ARE GETTING REFILLED.

I KNOW SOMETIMES IT DOESN'T SEEM LIKE IT BECAUSE IF YOU GO TO THE STORE IN THE AFTERNOON THE SHELVES MIGHT BE EMPTY AGAIN.

THAT'S REALLY A RESULT OF THE PANIC BUYING THAT YOU MENTIONED AND NOT NECESSARILY BECAUSE WE'RE NOT ABLE TO REFILM THOSE SHELVES.

THEY ARE BEING RESTOCKED.

JUST AS QUICKLY AS THEY'RE RESTOCKED, PEOPLE ARE COMING AND BUYING IN DROVES AGAIN.

ONE OF THE THINGS I ALSO WAS CURIOUS ABOUT IS HOW IS ALL OF THIS AFFECTING TRUCKERS JUST IN THEIR WORK LIVES?

OBVIOUSLY IF THERE'S MORE DEMAND, THERE'S GOT TO BE MORE DEMAND FOR WORK, AND IS THIS WORKING OUT ACROSS THE INDUSTRY AND HOW IS THAT BEING MANAGED BASICALLY?

IT'S BEEN INTERESTING.

IT IS A SHIFT LIKE WE'VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE, AT LEAST SINCE I'VE BEEN IN THIS INDUSTRY.

WE HAVE SEGMENTS OF THE INDUSTRY THAT ARE INCREDIBLY BUSY AND THEY'RE STRUGGLING TO KEEP UP.

THEN WE HAVE OTHER SEGMENTS THAT ARE VERY SLOW.

AS WE'VE HAA LOT OF WHAT THEY U TO DELIVER OR THE COMPANIES THEY USED TO DELIVER TO ARE CLOSED.

WE HAVE DRIVERS THAT ARE SEARCHING FOR WORK.

WHAT WE'RE STARTING TO SEE IS THE INDUSTRY IS REALLY HELPING EACH OTHER OUT.

WE HAVE -- WE REPRESENT TRUCKING COMPANIES ACROSS THE STATE, AND MANY OF OUR MEMBERS ARE CALLING FOR EACH OTHER.

GREAT EXAMPLE I'VE USED SEVERAL TIMES NOW, WE HAVE A FUEL HAULER IN SYRACUSE, NEW YORK.

OF COURSE, PEOPLE AREN'T DRIVING, BUSES AREN'T RUNNING.

THEY ARE VERY SLOW.

WE HAVE A GROCERY HAULER THAT, OF COURSE, IS VERY BUSY TRYING TO KEEP UP WITH THE NEW DEMAND THERE.

OUR FUEL HAULER IS ACTUALLY WORKING WITH THEM IN HAULING THEIR TRAILERS AND ALSO HAULING MILK TRAILERS AND TRYING TO KEEP UP WITH THE DEMAND IN MILK.

WE ARE STARTING TO SEE THESE PARTNERSHIPS AND THE INDUSTRY HELPING EACH OTHER TO KEEP UP WITH THE SHIFT IN THE SUPPLY CHAIN.

NOW, WHEN IT COMES TO HOW THE TRUCKERS ARE ACTUALLY WORKING -- I UNDERSTAND PRIOR TO COVID-19 THERE WERE REGULATIONS ABOUT HOW LONG YOU COULD DRIVE AND HOW LONG YOU HAD TO TAKE TIME OFF.

HAS ANY OF THAT SHIFTED, AND ARE THERE ALSO OF COURSE SAFETY REGULATIONS TO GO ALONG WITH THAT?

OF COURSE.

THIS IS A VERY HIGHLY REGULATED INDUSTRY.

WE TAKE SAFETY VERY SERIOUSLY, BUT WITH THE FEDERAL DECLARATION OF EMERGENCY, THERE WAS A RECOGNITION WE NEEDED TO PROVIDE RELIEF IN ORDER TO ENSURE THAT THE INDUSTRY COULD KEEP UP WITH THE DEMAND AND GET THE, NOT ONLY OUR GROCERY STORES, BUT OBVIOUSLY OUR MEDICAL SUPPLIES TO OUR HEALTH CARE FACILITIES AS WELL.

SO THERE HAS BEEN SOME RELIEF PROVIDED FOR THE HOURS OF SERVICE OF OPERATION.

TYPICALLY DRIVERS ARE LIMITED TO 11 HOURS A DAY OF DRIVING OR 14 HOURS TOTAL ON DUTY.

THOSE REGULATIONS HAVE BEEN RELAXED.

SO IF A DRIVER IS DELIVERING ESSENTIAL SUPPLIES, THEY CAN GO BEYOND THE 11 OR THE 14 HOURS.

AS SOON AS THEY ARE DONE WITH AN ESSENTIAL DELIVERY, HOWEVER, IF THEY DO NOT HAVE ANOTHER ESSENTIAL DELIVERY IMMEDIATELY BEHIND THAT ONE, THEY HAVE TO TAKE TEN HOURS OFF DUTY AND GET SOME REST.

SO IT IS A BALANCE BETWEEN ENSURING THE EFFICIENCY AND THE ABILITY TO GET THESE NECESSARY SUPPLIES DELIVERED, BUT ALSO MAKING SURE OUR DELIVERS ARE SAFE AND WELL RESTED.

OF COURSE.

I'M SPEAKING WITH KENDRA HEMS, PRESIDENT OF THE TRUCKING ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK.

ONE OF THE THINGS I WAS WONDERING IS, WITH SO MANY BUSINESSES THAT ARE SUDDENLY SHOULDERED OR CLOSED, DO STRUCKERS STILL HAVE THE ABILITY TO HAVE THE REST OFF THEY WOULD NEED, TO GET FOOD THEY NEED OR IS THIS THING THAT HAS TO BE INVENTED?

SO FAR WE HAVEN'T HEARD OF WIDESPREAD SHUTDOWNS IN REST AREAS.

BOTH THE STATE THROUGHWAY AUTHORITY AND OUR STATE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION ARE KPLITED TO KEEPING THOSE REST AREAS OPEN AND SERVICES AVAILABLE FOR DRIVERS, PARTICULARLY PROFESSIONAL TRUCK DRIVERS.

THEY KNOW THE NEED FOREST AND THE ABILITY TO HAVE RESTROOMS AND FOOD AND WATER IS INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT.

SO IN NEW YORK, THEY'RE COMMITTED TO KEEPING THEM OPEN.

WE DID SEE A LITTLE HICCUP IN PENNSYLVANIA EARLY ON.

UNDERSTANDING THEY WERE JUST TRYING TO PROTECT THEIR WORKERS AND PREVENT THE SPREAD, THEY MADE A DECISION TO SHUT THEIR REST AREAS DOWN.

THANKFULLY THEY RECONSIDERED THAT AND THOSE REST AREAS ARE NOW OPEN.

BY AND LARGE ACROSS THE COUNTRY WE'RE HEARING THAT REST AREAS ARE REMAINING OPEN SO THAT DRIVERS CAN GET THE SERVICES THEY NEED.

OF COURSE.

YOU SORT OF TOUCHED ON ANOTHER AREA THAT MAKES SENSE.

TRUCKING IS CERTAINLY NOT LIMITED JUST TO NEW YORK STATE, OF COURSE.

COMMERCE IS NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL SOMETIMES.

IS THERE I GUESS COMMUNICATION AMONGST DIFFERENT GROUPS LIKE, FOR EXAMPLE, COMPANIES THAT MIGHT HAVE TO CROSS THE BORDER WITH CANADA OR CROSS THE BORDER WITH MEXICO OR JUST FROM STATE TO STATE TO STATE TO STATE TO MAKE SURE THAT THE SUPPLY LINE IS MOVING SMOOTHLY JUST WITH AN INCREASED DEMAND.

YES, ABSOLUTELY.

OBVIOUSLY WITHIN THE INDUSTRY ITSELF, MANY OF THE TRUCKING COMPANIES, THE SHIPPERS, THE MANUFACTURERS, THEY ALL HAVE COMMUNICATION THAT'S OCCURRING TO ENSURE THAT THAT EFFICIENCY IS REMAINING.

BUT EVEN THOUGH I REPRESENT THE TRUCKING ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK, BUT EVERY STATE HAS A STATE TRUCKING ASSOCIATION AND WE ALSO HAVE THE NATIONAL AMERICAN TRUCKING ASSOCIATION.

WE CALL OURSELVES A FEDERATION IF YOU WILL.

WE'VE BEEN IN CONSTANT COMMUNICATION WITH EACH OTHER ABOUT THIS PANDEMIC SO THAT WE CAN ENSURE THAT WE ARE FROM CALIFORNIA TO NEW YORK AWARE OF WHAT REGULATIONS ARE IN PLACE AND THEN WE'RE PUSHING THAT INFORMATION OUT TO THE INDUSTRY.

ONE OF THE OTHER THINGS I FEEL MIGHT BE -- MAKE TRUCKERS INVISIBLE FOR PEOPLE IS THAT WE SEE JANITORS.

WE SEE PEOPLE WHO WORK IN OUR GROCERY STORES, WE SEE SO MANY OF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE SUDDENLY ESSENTIAL WORKERS TO OUR ECONOMY AND OUR EXISTENCE, BUT WE DON'T NECESSARILY GET TO SEE THE TRUCKERS WHO ARE BRINGING STUFF AND MAKING DELIVERIES.

I WONDER IF YOU COULD PAINT A PICTURE FOR US, WHO IS THE AEF RAJ TRUCKER OR IS THERE AN AVERAGE TRUCKER?

WHO ARE WE TALKING ABOUT WHO IS MAKING IT POSSIBLE FOR US TO GET FOOD AND MEDICINE?

THEY'RE ALL OF US.

MOTHERS, FATHERS, BROTHERS, SISTERS.

THEY ARE AVERAGE PEOPLE THAT ARE DOING AMAZING THINGS.

THEY ARE PUTTING THEMSELVES AT RISK.

BY AND LARGE WHEN THEY'RE ON THE ROAD, THEY'RE IN ISOLATION.

ONCE THEY GET TO THAT DELIVERY POINT OR THEY'RE PICKING UP WHATEVER PRODUCT THEY'RE PICKING UP, THEY ARE POTENTIALLY EXPOSING THEMSELVES AS WELL.

I THINK YOU MENTIONED EARLY ON, KIND OF THE UNSUNG HEROES.

NOT ALL HEROES WEAR K5E7S.

THAT'S WITHOUT QUESTION OUR TRUCK DRIVERS.

I'VE BEEN IN THIS INDUSTRY OVER 20 YEARS.

EVERY TIME THERE'S ANY KIND OF EMERGENCY, WHETHER IT BE WEATHER-RELATED EMERGENCY OR SOMETHING OF THIS NATURE, THIS INDUSTRY STEPS UP.

THERE'S SO MUCH PRIDE IN OUR DRIVERS IN THIS INDUSTRY THAT WHEN THEY CAN HELP, THEY WILL HELP.

THAT'S WHAT THEY'RE DOING TODAY.

OF COURSE.

AND ALSO, IS THERE ANY CONCERN, AS YOU WERE MENTIONING WITH THE EXPOSURE THAT TRUCKERS HAVE -- AGAIN, THEY ARE PICKING UP STUFF FROM ALL SORTS OF PLACES AND TRANSPORTING IT, IS THERE ABILITY FOR THEM TO HAVE THE PROTECTIVE MEASURES THAT MIGHT NEED GLOVES, MASKS, ET CETERA?

THAT HAS BEEN A CHALLENGE.

WE HAVE SEEN WHERE COMPANIES HAVE STRUGGLED GETTING THE PROPER PPE FOR THEIR DRIVERS, AND WHEN THEY CAN GET IT, THEY'RE PROVIDING THEM WITH THE GLOVES, THE MASKS, THE HAND SANITIZER.

BUT AT THE END OF THE DAY, IT'S JUST TAKING THE PROPER STEPS TO ENSURE THAT THEY'RE WASHING THEIR HANDS, THEY'RE WIPING DOWN VEHICLES, THAT THEY'RE MAINTAINING THE APPROPRIATE SIX FEET OF DISTANCE AS POSSIBLE.

A LOT OF FACILITIES ARE HAVING THE DRIVER STAY RIGHT IN THEIR TRUCK, NOT EVEN GETTING OUT OF THE TRUCK.

SO THEY'RE LIMITING EXPOSURE IN THAT WAY AS WELL.

REALLY IT'S LIKE ANY OF US.

IF WE'RE GOING TO GET OUT AND WE HAVE TO INTERACT, WE TAKE THOSE PRECAUTIONS.

I JUST WANT TO ONE MORE TIME REITERATE BECAUSE, AGAIN, THE SUPPLY CHAIN IS WORKING.

IT'S JUST NEEDED TO ADJUST.

THERE'S MORE THAN ENOUGH TO GO AROUND.

MORE THAN ENOUGH TO GO AROUND, ABSOLUTELY.

I KNOW IT CAN CAUSE FEAR WHEN YOU WALK INTO A GROCERY STORE AND SEE THOSE EMPTY SHELVES AND YOU GET VERY NERVOUS.

LIKE I SAID, THOSE SHELVES ARE BEING RESTOCKED.

IT'S JUST TIME OF DAY ON WHEN YOU GET THERE.

IF WE COULD CALM THE FEAR AND GET CONSUMERS TO UNDERSTAND YOU DON'T NEED TO PANIC BUY, JUST SHOP AS YOU NORMALLY WOULD SHOP, YOU'D SEE THE SHELVES FILL BACK UP AGAIN AND IT WOULD BE FINE.

YES, THERE'S PLENTY IN THE SUPPLY CHAIN.

WE'RE NOT GOING TO GO HUNGRY.

WE ALL HAVE PLENTY OF TOILET PAPER.

WE WILL HAVE PLENTY.

MANUFACTURERS ARE CONTINUING TO MANUFACTURE TOILET PAPER AND PAPER PRODUCTS, AND WE WILL GET THEM TO THE STORES AND FILL THEM BACK UP FOR YOU.

FINAL QUESTION.

SINCE WE'RE STILL GETTING NEW INFORMATION ABOUT HOW LONG WE'RE GOING TO NEED TO PRACTICE THIS SOCIAL DISTANCING, HOW SUSTAINABLE DO YOU SEE THIS?

IS THIS SOMETHING THAT COULD GO ON WITH THE TRUCKING INDUSTRY A FOR MONTHS PERHAPS?

THE INDUSTRY CAN ADJUST.

THEY'LL MAKE ADJUSTMENTS, JUST AS THEY ALREADY HERE.

WE'RE THREE WEEKS INTO THIS INTO NEW YORK SINCE WE HAD THE FIRST CASE DIAGNOSED.

THEY'LL CONTINUE TO ADJUST AS NEEDED TO ENSURE WE'RE MEETING THE NEEDS, WHETHER IT BE THE MEDICAL SUPPLIES BEING DELIVERED OR RESTOCKING OUR SHELVES OR GETTING PRODUCTS TO MANUFACTURERS.

THEY'LL CONTINUE TO DO WHAT THEY DO.

THE INDUSTRY HAS ALWAYS BEEN HERE AND WILL ALWAYS BE HERE.

IT'S ONE OF THOSE THINGS YOU CAN RELY ON EVEN THOUGH YOU MAY NOT RECOGNIZE IT EVERY SINGLE DAY.

WE'RE DOING WHAT WE DO EVERY DAY.

IT'S JUST THAT NOW I THINK IT'S REALLY BEING RECOGNIZED BECAUSE THE NEED HAS GROWN SO MUCH.

ALL RIGHT.

KENDRA HEMS, PRESIDENT OF THE TRUCKING ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK, I WANT TO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING ME ON THE PROGRAM AND GIVING US OR AT LEAST PEACE OF MIND THAT THE SUPPLY CHAIN IS WORKING.

THINGS ARE GOING TO BE OKAY?

YES, ABSOLUTELY.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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