The truck driver shortage could be addressed by allowing younger drivers to enter the industry.

Restaurant Leaders Seek Biden’s Help With Supply Chain Issues

In a letter, the National Restaurant Association proposed solutions to supply delays, including immigration reform and younger truck drivers.

  • With 95 percent of restaurants experiencing major supply chain delays and shortages of key food items, the National Restaurant Association has asked the Biden administration to push through immigration and shipping reform bills.
  • Expanding job opportunities for the formerly incarcerated and letting young people under 21 get into the trucking industry could also help address the crisis, the Association said.

Related: 4 ways to deal with supply chain shortages in the pandemic era

As the labor crisis, supply chain challenges and inflation continue to weigh down the restaurant industry, the National Restaurant Association proposed several solutions in a letter to President Biden today.

“The drop in consumer confidence brought on by the delta variant this summer halted the small gains we made earlier this year, and there are no indications of immediate relief,” the letter states. “Ninety thousand restaurants have closed permanently or long-term, and restaurant sales are down approximately $300 billion since the pandemic began.”

Ninety-five percent of the nation’s restaurants “have experienced significant supply delays or shortages of key food items in recent months,” the Association notes. Meanwhile, restaurant commodity prices keep climbing, with beef up 57.7 percent and fats and oils up 49.6 percent. Menu prices have risen 4.7 percent in the past 12 months, the letter notes.

The labor crisis has led to “a shortage of truck drivers, agricultural workers, people to unload shipping containers, etc.,” the Association adds in the letter.

Related: The possibilities and pitfalls of ghost kitchens

The Association proposed several long-term solutions to the country’s workforce challenges:

Pass comprehensive immigration reform. The letter calls on Biden and Congress to create “a clear path to legalization” for the 11 million-plus undocumented workers in the U.S. “Many are in search of work, and others are paying taxes and contributing to the economy and their communities,” the letter says. “Restaurants support a clear path to legalization for these workers, including a permanent solution for DACA recipients.”

The Association recommends overhauling the visa worker program to match willing workers with willing employers. “The restaurant industry is built on a culture of diversity and inclusion, employing individuals from many cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds,” the letter states. “It’s time to create a viable visa worker program that allows legal foreign-born workers to come into the U.S. under a controlled process to work year-round in the hospitality sector.

Expand employment opportunities for the formerly incarcerated. The Association proposed a partnership with the private sector to “expand employment opportunities for former incarcerated persons and assist the private sector in overcoming the stigma and barriers to help these individuals secure and advance in good jobs.”

Allow more young people to enter the trucking industry. The average age of a long-haul driver in 2018 was 55, the letter notes. But federal regulations currently don’t allow high school graduates to join the long-haul trucking industry until they’re 21. “The bipartisan infrastructure package currently being considered in Congress contains a program modeled on the DRIVE-Safe Act to safely train 18- to 21-year-old individuals to become drivers, allowing them to drive in interstate commerce once they meet rigorous training and safety requirements,” the letter states. “Implementation of this program is something that can be immediately done to begin addressing the truck driver shortage.”

Address a massive shipping crisis at U.S. ports. The crisis is leading to bottlenecks and backlogs that are increasing delays and shipping costs. The Association said long-term reforms are needed, including passage of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2021. The House bill establishes “minimum requirements for service contracts to ensure freight is not  unreasonably refused and enact common-sense reforms to address unfair business practices.” The Biden administration also “could consider suspending or reforming the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 … to allow freight to move more cost-effectively between U.S. ports.”

Revisit trade policies and tariffs. The Association called on Biden to lift tariffs on food and beverage products and equipment used in the supply chain. Tariff relief “will help companies offset increased costs caused by the supply chain crisis,” the letter says. Meanwhile, to cope with poultry and beef shortages, the Association urged the Biden administration to “consider opening more markets and eliminate barriers surrounding” imported foods “that meet our country’s rigorous food safety and animal health standards.”