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Drivers Gain From Wage Race as Truckers Turn Away Cargo

Long-haul trucks account for about 38 percent of the $840 billion U.S. freight market, making drivers a crucial link in that economic chain.
Tommy Walters, hauling lawnmowers to Rhode Island from Maryland with his Boston terrier Daisy riding shotgun, is feeling flush these days after the biggest raise of his 17-year trucking career.

“Under the new pay scale, I’m looking at probably making over $60,000 a year,” Walters, 40, said by telephone while waiting for a tire repair in Hagerstown, Maryland. “That’s pretty exciting.”

It’s a big step up from Walters’s usual $48,000 to $55,000, and he’s not alone in an industry where drivers’ wages haven’t kept pace with the national average. Long accustomed to driver shortages, U.S. companies now find themselves fattening up paychecks to retain employees and handle surging freight demand.

U.S. Xpress Enterprises Inc., Walters’s employer, announced a 13 percent average boost in August, more than four times the industry-wide increase last year. It became the shot heard around the trucking business, outpacing Con-way Inc. (CNW), Celadon Group Inc. (CGI) and other competitors that have also raised pay to keep their trucks rolling.

“You have the early stages of what could be a wage war,” said John Larkin, a Stifel Financial Corp. analyst in Baltimore. “It’s hard for others to stand pat and not take pay up.”

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