We have no choice but to pass on rising labour and equipment costs to customers: Bison-Transport CEO
As trucking companies begin to feel the effects of vaccine mandates at the U.S.-Canada border, experts are sounding the alarm about the looming ramifications for consumers across the country.
Over the weekend, new directives from the federal government kicked in that eliminated exemptions for truckers at the U.S. border, who were previously not required to be vaccinated to enter the country because of their “essential worker” status.
Bison Transport Inc. Chief Executive Officer Rob Penner said Monday that his company has already lost nearly 10 per cent of its fleet as a result of the vaccine requirement.
With 6,000 trailers and 2,100 tractors, Winnipeg-based Bison is one of Canada’s largest trucking companies. It announced a $2,500 sign-on bonus — their largest ever — for vaccinated drivers when the new rules took effect.
“Our goal there was to incentivize people to keep them in line with the rules and attract new workers, but that’s been really challenging,” Penner said.
He added that Bison “will have no choice” but to pass on rising labour and equipment costs to customers if it continues to lose workers this way.
Canadian truckers must show proof that they have received at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to enter the country when returning from the U.S. Those who cannot show proof will be mandated for quarantine and testing requirements.
On the other hand, unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated American truckers will be directed back to the U.S. without any exceptions.
In an interview Monday, Mullen Group Chief Executive Officer Murray Mullen said he doesn’t want to argue in favour of or against the mandates. “But what we have to understand is that, sometimes, when we go to solve one problem, we create another problem on the other side,” he said.
“And the other important thing here is that there are way more drivers based in the United States who are unvaccinated than in Canada,” Mullen added.
According to the American Trucking Association, only about 50 to 60 per cent of U.S. truckers are vaccinated.
“It’s going to create extreme problems and it will make things very, very complicated for supply and delivery as all of this unfolds in the weeks ahead,” Mullen said. His company has already lost five per cent of its truckers since the mandates kicked in on Saturday.
David Clement, North American affairs manager at the Consumer Choice Center, said Canadians should be prepared to see lots of empty shelves and much higher costs for basic goods at grocery stores and pharmacies.
“It’s definitely going to be catastrophic in every way possible,” he said. “This couldn’t come at a worse time because consumers are already grappling with inflation issues and pandemic-related supply crunches.”
Sylvain Charlebois, a food management professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said he finds it hard to understand why the mandate was announced now when it could’ve been delayed.
“It just makes no sense,” he said. “And now, food security will become an issue for everyone while they deal with Omicron.”
A similar version of the Canadian government vaccine policy is expected to be implemented by U.S. officials as early as Jan. 22.