October 22, 2019

Commercial Truckers Struggle During Minnesota Government Shutdown

“The Minnesota State government shutdown on July 1, 2011 when Mark Dayton, the DFL governor and the Republican led legislature failed to agree on a budget. When the government shutdown, so did all but three of the fully equipped public rest areas along Minnesota’s highways. Commercial truckers, frequent users of the rest areas, feel particularly burdened by the closures.

According to Minnesota Trucking Association (MTA) President John Hausladen, state and federal regulations require truck drivers to rest for ten consecutive hours after being on duty for fourteen hours each day. Ordinarily, many truck drivers would stop at one of the public rest areas when they needed to take their required break. Now, truck drivers have only one good option  private rest stops. These stops, however, lack the capacity to accommodate all of the truckers driving in the state. According to Hausladen, “truck drivers who run out of hours, but can’t be accommodated at a private stop, will have to make one of two illegal choices: they can drive in excess of their allowable hours to find an acceptable parking spot, or they can park on shoulders and ramps, creating a hazard for other motorists.

In an attempt to ease the situation, Hausladen and the MTA tried to have the rest stops reopened. The petitioned Special Master Kathleen Blatz, a former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, now in charge of determining which government tasks are essential and should continue to operate, to reopen the rest areas. She denied the petition, finding that the rest areas are “non-critical.”

Instead of the public rest areas, government officials in Minnesota suggest that truckers stop in the nearest town to use a restroom or to take a break. Truck drivers who decide to stop illegally on a ramp or on the side or the road are taking a risk. In spite of the shutdown, police and highway patrol officers are working and are still giving out tickets. Instead, many truckers choose to stop in the nearest state  Wisconsin. Truck driver Dennis Michaluk explains, I was reading about the shutdown in USA Today in West Virginia. That’s where I’m going, I thought. ‘Well, I’ve got to stop in Wisconsin. Michaluk spent $800 on fuel in the adjacent state.

But, closed rest stops aren’t the only thing that truckers in Minnesota are worried about. Licensing and credentialing services are also closed or operating in a modified manner. Truck operators find that they are losing money as a result. General Manager Sean Claton of Midwest Specialized Transportation explains that his company cannot operate because it cannot obtain licenses from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. As a result, he explains, I’ve made a multimillion-dollar investment in our business, purchasing equipment. I’ve got drivers for those trucks. I’ve got customers purchasing freight for those trucks. But I can’t put those trucks to work. He estimates that he is losing $5,000 per day because of the shutdown.

According to the MTA, some workarounds are in place, allowing truckers to continue to operate in the state. However, these procedures, when available, are patchwork in nature. For example, motor carriers are required by federal law to obtain the motor vehicle record of all of their drivers when they are hired and then annually. Since Driver and Vehicle Services (a part of the Department of Public Safety) is closed, the MTA suggests that carriers work with local police and sheriff’s offices. Since law enforcement offices are able to run these records, the MTA reports that they may be willing to help carriers obtain copies during the shutdown.

Truck drivers who need to renew their commercial driver’s licenses are still able to do so at deputy registrar’s office but will not be issued a plastic driver’s license. Instead, they will receive a yellow paper license that is valid for 45 days. If the shutdown lasts beyond 45 days, the paper licenses will continue to be valid. However, drivers who require a HazMat endorsement will not be able to obtain one.

Owners are not currently able to put new trucks into interstate service but can still obtain oversize and overweight permits through the Department of Transportation.

Information about available services is particularly difficult to find since many state offices are closed and their corresponding agency websites are not working or being updated.”

Find out more:

July 12th Time Article Discussing the Minnesota Shutdown and the Trucking Industry

Minnesota Trucking Association Information on Licensing for Truck Drivers

Trucker.com Article on the Hearing with Special Master Blatz

Minnesota State Website with Information Regarding the Shutdown (Including Agency Closures)