DHS vax mandate for international truckers will worsen supply chain squeeze, industry warns

"Canada is our largest trading partner, so any disruption at the border will certainly have consequences for the U.S. economy whether it is the auto sector, manufacturing, agricultural products or consumer goods," the American Trucking Associations said.

Updated: January 23, 2022 - 9:01pm

As a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for non-U.S. individuals seeking to enter the country by land or sea takes effect Saturday, critics in the trucking industry and Congress are warning the measure will only exacerbate U.S. supply chain problems and inflation — possibly affecting food supplies.

Under the newly effective Department of Homeland Security rules, originally announced in October, essential foreign travelers entering the country "via land ports of entry or ferry terminals along our Northern and Southern borders" must now be fully vaccinated.

During the pandemic, truck drivers were allowed to travel across U.S. land borders under an exemption from entry restrictions for essential foreign travelers, but truckers are subject to the new mandate.

With 80% of trade between the U.S. and Canada dependent on trucking, American trucking industry leaders are warning that supply chain bottlenecks already causing empty store shelves and soaring prices will now worsen.

"Canada is our largest trading partner, so any disruption at the border will certainly have consequences for the U.S. economy whether it is the auto sector, manufacturing, agricultural products or consumer goods," the American Trucking Associations tweeted.

"We're just going to see the problem compounded even more," John Elliott with Load One Transportation told The National Desk.

Elliot is a Detroit-based, third-generation trucking owner and operator who predicts the mandate will affect 20% to 30% of his 600 drivers.

"Our professional drivers have been out there and have made it this far through the whole pandemic, and to do this to them now, to suddenly not consider them essential, is simply a shame," Elliott said.

Brian Hitchcock, owner of MBH Trucking LLC in Michigan, expects to lose 40% in revenue as just five of his 30 drivers are vaccinated, leaving the rest ineligible to transport diesel exhaust fluid between Ontario and Michigan.

"And it's all because we can't cross the border," Hitchcock told NBC News. "It's affecting every sector of what we use in this country."

Hitchcock, who is also the interim executive director of the Michigan Trucking Association, said he's spoken to 15 other trucking companies employing about 400 drivers combined and has learned that 75% of them are not vaccinated.

"How do you force a mandate on a bunch of truck drivers who have been out there on the front line for 20 months and never asked for anything?" he asked. "They were the ones that kept our economy moving and supplies [going], so you never ran out of food."

The cost of transporting fruit from Arizona and California to Canada increased by 25% last week, George Pitsikoulis, the CEO of Canadawide Fruits, told Bloomberg on Monday.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) sent President Biden a letter Thursday, asking for a pause on the DHS vaccine mandate for truck drivers and other essential workers crossing the U.S.-Canadian border because of its impact on farmers. He also asked the Biden administration "to work with Canadian officials to ensure free and fair trade across" the border.

"Over the last few weeks, I have heard from Montana farmers and ranchers who are concerned that these new requirements will make it more difficult for them to get fertilizer and other supplies," Tester wrote. "Montana producers faced extraordinarily difficult drought conditions over the past year and cannot afford further disruptions as they work to plant this year's crop. Additionally, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, winter weather storms, and inflation continue to effect [sic] the supply chain, increasing costs for Montana businesses and consumers.

"The Administration must work to protect and increase trade and essential travel across the northern border, not put additional road blocks in the way."

On the Friday episode of the John Solomon Reports podcast, Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) decried the "hypocrisy" of requiring "truck drivers who are actually bringing goods into our country, in a time of supply chain crisis" to be vaccinated while 1.7 million illegal immigrants and Afghan refugees are being dispersed throughout the country regardless of vaccination status.

"So if they genuinely care about COVID, then why do you do it in some cases and not in other cases?" Steube asked.

The mandate "will have a huge, detrimental effect on already a supply crisis that all of us have seen, not only added on to the inflation of the cost of goods," but also exacerbating the problem of empty shelves at grocery stores, he said, mentioning a picture he tweeted of a Florida Walmart being out of items.

Despite Florida having ports and railroads, "we can't get the goods in this country that we need, and it's because of the policies that have been put in place by Democratic governors in California and this Democratic White House," Steube said. "So to further put mandates on truck drivers, when it's hard for them to even find truck drivers to work right now, and now you're going to make it even harder."

John Zadrozny, director of the Center for Homeland Security and Immigration of the America First Policy Institute, compared the bare shelves at supermarkets to food shortages in the former Soviet Union in an interview with the John Solomon Reports podcast to be aired Monday.

Predicting the vaccine mandate for essential workers crossing U.S. borders will "impact things in a bad way," the former Trump administration official said, "And it's really remarkable to me … the lack of outrage [at] Joe Biden's Sovietization of our supermarkets and our economy."

The supply chain crisis is "intentional," Zadrozny alleged. "I think there's a desire to have people more dependent," he explained. "I think there is a desire to have a weaker economy so people turn to government for a paycheck."

"[T]he whole issue of truckers being required to be vaccinated when we have illegal aliens with God-knows-what and arrest warrants on planes — I mean, U.S. citizens are officially second-class citizens in Joe Biden's America," Zadrozny said.

The Department of Homeland Security didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The DHS mandate takes effect a week after Canada instituted its own vaccine mandate for foreign travelers.

Canadian truck drivers blocked a highway near the U.S. border on Monday and Tuesday in protest of their country's vaccine mandate, the Independent reported.

On Thursday, the premier of Canada's Alberta province urged the federal government to exempt truck drivers from the vaccine mandate, according to Reuters.