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With Truckers Bidding For Fewer Jobs, Drivers Being Forced To Settle For Lower Rates During Pandemic; 'It's Impossible To Survive'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Businesses across the country are shut down due to COVID-19, but truck drivers are not. The result? A bidding war between truckers that is driving down pay rates, and making a tough time even tougher for independent drivers.

CBS 2 is Working for Chicago, committed to telling stories of economic hardship. Morning Insider Tim McNicholas shows us how local truckers are hurting.

Charlie Whitby's truck is still moving, but his revenue is pumping the brakes.

"We have families to feed and provide for," he said. "We're out here doing the footwork, we're putting in miles on our trucks, maintenance, fuel. We can't survive on this. It's impossible to survive."

Whitby is a Glenwood resident who owns and operates his truck. He pulled over to talk in Wisconsin, where he'd just delivered a load of cornstarch for $400. He picked it up about 400 miles away in Lafayette, Indiana.

"I'm trying to work, but this is getting to the point where I don't even want to be in this truck anymore," he said.

He said, before the pandemic, he would have earned hundreds more dollars for the same trip.

For example, he pointed to an offer from early March to travel 350 miles for $700.

Now he's going a longer distance for $400, and most of that goes to overhead costs like maintenance, fuel, and insurance.

"The profit after I've made all my deductions, I've made $78," he said.

Is that worth it?

"Not at all," he said.

So why do it?

"I want to maintain my insurance to keep that going. So, hopefully, when this all blows over, I'll still have a job, a truck, and be able to provide for my family," he said.

Truckers took to Washington, D.C., last week to protest the low rates.

"It's been pretty tough," said Don Schaefer, executive vice president of Midwest Truckers Association

Schaefer said there's still a need for essentials, but overall demand is down because so much of the economy is closed.

"If you have so many trucks out there, and they're all bidding for the same business, and they aren't bidding the price up, they're bidding the rate down, of course he who has the best rate is gonna get the work," Schaefer said.

That's what Whitby is seeing firsthand. After his Wisconsin drop-off, he agreed to take another load to Iowa, only to learn it was canceled.

"When they cancel, it means they found somebody to take it for cheaper," he said.

But he keeps trucking on, looking for the next job.

Whitby also has applied for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, and he's waiting to hear back. He and another trucker from Plainfield said they're also concerned about their own health, and whether they could be exposed to COVID-19 at a truck stop, even with their masks and sanitizer.

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We'll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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