2:08 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: I think she can do anything she wants, don’t you?
Well, hello, everyone. It’s an honor to welcome you to the White House out on the lawn here. I heard that helicopter going by. I was hoping the helo wasn’t going to land. (Laughter.)
Maria, thanks for sharing your story.
And my buddy, Patrick Murphy, former Assistant Secretary — Secretary of the Army as well as a former congressman. And the boy stays in shape, man. Huh? Look at him. (Laughter.) I tell you —
CHAIR MURPHY: I’m trying to (inaudible) you, sir. I (inaudible) you.
THE PRESIDENT: I tell you what, man, I — and I want to thank you for being here, man. Nobody worked harder as a congressman or Acting Secretary of the Army to connect veterans to opportunity, and that’s what it’s all — been all about for you.
And I want to thank another veteran who knows a thing or two about laying the foundation for good jobs and the transportation sector: Secretary Buttigieg. (Applause.)
And I — he says, “Go Navy.” He says, “Go Army.” I used to say, “Go Navy,” but then my son got a Bronze Star in the Army and I decided I couldn’t say it anymore. So I just say, “Go American forces.” (Laughter.) Anyway.
I also want to recognize — he couldn’t be here today, but Marty Walsh, the Secretary of the — of Labor. And he’s doing an outstanding job helping to lead this effort alongside Pete — Secretary Buttigieg.
And, you know, I want to welcome members of Congress who are here today as well. Tammy, how are you, Tammy? Good to see you. Tammy Baldwin, by the way. (Applause.)
And also, Congressman Pete DeFazio. (Applause.)
And Laura Underwood — where’s Laura? There she is, right there — right in front. Good to see you, Laura. (Applause.)
And I want to particularly shout out to the new President of the Teamsters, Sean O’Brien. Stand up, man; I want them to see you. (Applause.) As — as they say in parts of Wilmington, Delaware, “These guys brung me to the dance” 35 years ago — 40 years ago.
And also, I want to say a quick hi to a pal. And you’ve been a pal. You know, I — thank you for being here and getting things done.
And, you know, in addition to all that, there’s an outfit called — you’ve probably heard of them — the United Mine Workers. Yeah, well, you know, they got the president here too. Mr. President, where are you? Where is he sitting? He was here. A lot of truckers in the United Mine Workers.
At any rate, folks, I spend a lot of time talking about the economy and the record-breaking economic comeback we’re — experienced because of all of you sitting out there in those chairs.
Today, I want to talk with people who are — who are making the comeback possible — people like Maria, who you just heard from, and her son Roman who’s going there pretty soon.
And all those truck drivers and their families that are here today, I want to thank you all to — you keep — what you’re doing to keep America moving, because that’s literally what you’re doing, especially these last two years helping carry the nation, literally, on your backs.
You learned, on Friday, the economy created 431,000 jobs in March. (Applause.) A record.
Over the course of my presidency, the economy has now created 7.9 million jobs. More jobs in the first 14 months than any President ever — (applause) — in large part of all of you. Not a joke.
Unemployment is at 3.6 percent, down from 6.4 when we took office. The fastest decline in unemployment at the start of any presidential term ever recorded.
And after a long stretch, Americans are back to work. Americans are back to work. (Applause.)
An economy has gone from being on the mend to being on the move. And the economy we’re building — we’re building a strong economy, one where hardworking Americans can live with dignity, support their families, build a better life, and a better life for their children as well.
All of you here today are people our economy should be built around because you all — you all are the people who literally make it run. That’s not hyperbole. You literally make it run.
I have nothing against investment bankers. They could all retire and nothing much would change. You all quit, everything comes to a halt. (Laughter.) Think about it. I’m not joking. (Applause.) Think about it. Come to a literal halt.
During the pandemic, a lot of Americans have been introduced to a term you all know well — and Pete used it: supply chains. A simple term. A supply chain is a journey — the journey of a product to get to a customer’s doorstep. That’s what it is.
And during the pandemic, those chains were interrupted. Factory closures around the world — not just in the United States, around the world — caused backups and delays because of COVID.
At the same time, because of the strength and speed of our recovery, Americans had more money in their pockets than they had in a long time.
During the pandemic, they wanted to spend that money not on restaurants or vacations, which are now coming back as well, but on hard goods.
They wanted home improvements, televisions, and automobiles — things that had to be transported. The very products that slow down by disruptions of the supply chain.
Demand was high. Supply was interrupted. And the recipe for higher prices and long delays — that’s exactly what we saw not only here, but all around the world.
So, we knew we needed every tool at our disposal to address the problem. And the best way to do it was to invest in people who make the supply chain run. Trucking moves about 70 percent — about 70 percent of all the goods in this country. Seventy percent. (Applause.)
And truck drivers are facing real challenges. The average driver waits four and a half hours for their truck to be loaded and unloaded during an eleven-hour shift — and 40 percent of their day. And often, they don’t get paid for that wait time.
Back in 1978, the average truck driver’s pay was $34 — was $34 an hour in today’s dollars. Last year, it was $25 an hour, nearly a 30 percent decline. In this iconic American industry, it’s getting harder and harder to raise a family with dignity and pride that you deserve. And it’s no surprise so many drivers left their jobs.
The workforce is getting older — not that I am, but they are. (Laughter.) I used to drive a truck; it’s a long story. Anyway. (Laughter.)
It’s getting har- — and I thought I was going to get to drive one of these suckers today, but — (laughter) — anyway, it’s another story, too.
But, look, it’s getting harder and harder to recruit new drivers, particularly women and people of color, to an industry that this nation and our economy desperately needs at full strength.
The good news is that since I took office, we’ve begun to turn things around. In fact — and 2021 was the best year for trucking employment since 1994. (Applause.) There are now 35,000 more trucking jobs than there were before the pandemic.
But we all know that we need to move faster getting more people working in this industry, in jobs they can rely on and raise a family on.
That’s why last December we brought together industry and labor to tackle the problem facing drivers, and we listened.
And when we heard that there were long wait times in many states for people wanting to get their commercial driver’s licenses — their CDLs — we took action. We provided technical assistance as well as $57 million in federal funds to help states issue these CDLs faster.
And I’m proud to report: Because of Pete and others, so far in 2022, we’re issuing CDLs at double the rate of last year — 120,000 in January and February alone.
We also know that the key ingredient to getting and keeping more drivers was increasing training programs like the registered apprenticeships approved by the Department of Labor — programs that allow aspiring drivers to learn while — earn while they learn, while making this essential job more attractive for potential drivers regardless of age, background, and gender.
The program has proven to be — improve safety and better working conditions and better pay and benefits.
Typically, it takes about eight months to create a registered apprenticeship program. But because of Pete and others and this Department of Labor, we were able to cut the red tape. And now it takes as little as two days. (Applause.)
As a result, in the last 90 days, 100 major employers have launched new registered apprenticeship programs — UPS, Domino’s, Pepsi, Albertsons, and more; along with the trade associations, like the American Trucking Association, the National Minority Trucking Association, the Food Industry Association, and others.
What that all adds up to is a strong foundation for the work ahead: a pipeline of hardworking men and women from all backgrounds, highly trained and highly motivated to get behind the wheel, including a whole lot of veterans, thanks to the veterans trucking initiative known as “Taskforce Movement” by Patrick Murphy — led by Patrick Murphy. (Applause.)
And, by the way, I’d say, parenthetically: If you can handle a tank, if you can handle an armored personnel carrier, you sure in hell can handle one of these suckers.
And an awful lot of well-known people also.
The idea — I remember — I’m going to just digress for one second. I — I got a commercial license because my dad used to run an automobile agency. And I used to have to go up to the body shop up in Philadelphia from Wilmington. And when they’d order a trailer or a cab, I’d just — they’d sell the cab. And so, I had to have a licensed to be able to drive it up and back.
And so, during the truckers strike years later, when I was a young senator, I was — there was a guy who ran steel from Deemer Steel out to Ohio. And so, I decided to ride out with him to see what it was like in the strike. And I was driving, going through Shiloh, Ohio, and — and we — he was — his handle was “Big 10”. And I remember every — all the trucks stops were being blockaded at the time during the strike.
And he — he called, and he said, “Big 10 wanting to come in.” I forget exactly how he said it. And the — and the only woman truck driver I ever knew I met that day.
She said, “This is Big Mama. No room.” (Laughter.) Swear to God, true story. (Laughter.) Swear to God. He said, “I’ve got a United States senator driving my truck.” She said, “I got the damn president in mine. So what?” (Laughter.) I’ll never forget that. I was a very powerful guy.
Anyway — (laughter) — that was the first woman trucker I met.
But look, the Labor and — Labor and Transportation Departments are working closely with industry to tackle issues facing women in trucking, recruit and retrain more women drivers so we can draw more Americans to work with increased wages, reduced wait times, and improved safety, and so much more.
Folks, there’s a heck of a lot more we have to do. A lot more we have to do. Secretary Buttigieg laid out some of the steps we’re taking to make these jobs more attractive for more Americans. And it’s all centered around listening to you, the drivers.
Look, you’ve got to keep it — we’ve got to keep it going. We’re building a better economy around American manufacturing and American supply chains. And thanks to the Infrastructure Law — and it wasn’t my law; it was a bipartisan — one of the few great bipartisan things we’ve done this year — we’re making the largest investment in American roads and bridges since, literally, the creation of the Interstate Highway System. And that means a bright future for American trucking.
This — this country will be counting on you more than it ever has. So we should be able to — you should be able to count on us to keep investing in you and your families. That’s exactly what we’re going to do.
I’m looking forward to all of the progress we’re going to make together. And I want to thank you all. Thank you for being here. Thank you for what you do. Thank your families.
And may God bless you all. And may God protect our troops. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Applause.)
2:20 P.M. EDT