WASHINGTON — The 3.5 million truck drivers on our nation’s roads and highways are the lifeblood of getting much-needed goods and supplies into our homes, especially during a pandemic.
But trucker Cory Kepner took ta photo a few days ago at one of his warehouse accounts, showing a fenced-off area with a sign reading, "Employees only beyond this point."
Beyond that point was the restroom that Kepner asked to use and he said he was refused entry.
"It was just a cold shoulder," Kepner said. "I talked to some of the other drivers and we all kind of felt the same way."
"We’ve been servicing you as a customer for how many years, and now you’re going to -- in our time of need, and in your time of need as a customer -- you’re going to push us to the side?" Kepner questioned.
Kepner is a home-daily driver, so he makes multiple trips a day from his warehouse to a customer.
"I kind of rely on my customer base to be able to use those restrooms," Kepner said. "I don’t get past the truck stops and rest areas as much as the other guys."
The trucking company Kepner works for was able to convince businesses limiting restroom access to lift restrictions as long as drivers get temperature screened before walking in.
The number of distribution companies closing off their restrooms to truckers remains small. There is no organization of distribution or grocery companies calling for a uniform lockout of restrooms to truckers. But the fear of coronavirus transmission is real even among the truckers themselves.
"A lot of drivers self-quarantine themselves to their trucks and aren't going home, because of the fear of bringing the virus home to their loved ones," Kepner said.
"We were able to get that message out early on to folks like Pennsylvania and say 'here’s why these are essential' and over the course of a few days, we were able to get half of the rest stops reopened again," American Trucking Association Vice President of Safety Policy Dan Horvath said.
While truck stops in the DMV remain open, the ATA is keeping its eye on protecting trucker health needs.
"We’re encouraging our member companies, through ATA and then again with our state partners, to work with shippers and warehousing facilities to make sure that they’re not coming up with blanket policies not allowing a truck driver to use that restroom," Horvath said.
The American Trucking Association is working with state governments to ensure that drivers going through states sheltering in place are exempt from 14-day quarantine orders.