Trucker Ronnie Jackson, of Earlsboro, Ok., wears a face mask to walk his dog Shorty in Foristell, Missouri on April 5.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

One of America’s largest truck stops is furloughing 2,900 associates and 122 corporate employees.

TravelCenters of America said state stay-at-home orders and dine-in restaurant closures have slashed business as truck drivers readjust how they interact with truck stops.

The furloughs are a chilling sign of how the coronavirus is already slamming the trucking industry.

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For decades, truck stops were where America’s nearly 2 million truck drivers could dawdle over a meal and connect with others — a break in an otherwise lonely workday.

But as states order dine-in restaurants to shutter and nonessential workers to stay at home, these truck stops are suddenly no longer so lively. That shift has forced one of America’s largest full-service travel center chains to furlough nearly 3,000 employees in its stores and corporate headquarters.

On April 17, TravelCenters of America announced that it would furlough 2,900 associates and about 122 corporate employees because of the business slowdowns at TA’s full-service restaurants. In total, TA operates more than 260 locations across the US and Canada.

“This decision was very difficult, but these are unprecedented times,” Jon Pertchik, CEO of TA, said in the Friday statement. “We believe this step is necessary to preserve the long-term success of our company and to ensure our essential services remain available for the millions of professional drivers who rely on us daily.”

TA employees who were already enrolled in a benefits plan will still receive healthcare coverage. The company added in the statement that out-of-work TA employees are eligible for enhanced unemployment benefits through the $2 trillion stimulus bill signed into law last month, also called the CARES Act. 

In March, TA granted its 21,000-plus employees who work in the travel centers a cash bonus, free meals, and 80 hours of paid sick leave if they tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Story continues

The coronavirus is just the latest in challenges for the trucking industry. Trucking had a rough 2019, with drivers like Chad Boblett in Lexington, Kentucky, saying the industry is in a “bloodbath.” Thanks to the virus, analysts predict that trucking will again suffer in 2020. 

Because of the slowdown in manufacturing and much of retail, the trucking industry is on the cusp of a “freight cliff,” according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency report obtained by Politico. The rate of moving goods via truck has fallen to the lowest levels seen since 2009, Cass Information Systems said last week.

These layoffs also speak to the “restaurant apocalypse.” While the restaurants in TA stops, and most travel centers, are mostly large chains like Bob Evans or IHOP, it’s estimated that one in five restaurants could permanently close because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

For now, the shutdown of dine-in restaurants in nearly every state means truck drivers are not just searching for a place to commune — but a place to eat. That’s forced them to rely on grab-and-go options at truck stops, which are mostly cold, preprepared food, or fast-food chains. 

“One problem is, where can you find clean, safe food?” truck driver John Mackerman told Business Insider. “Your options are pretty slim for offerings unless you’re lucky enough to find a truck stop restaurant open. The drivers who go long distance, you have to plan trips to find them.”

Do you work in the trucking industry? Email rpremack@businessinsider.com.

Read more about how coronavirus is affecting America’s 1.8 million truck drivers:

Why America’s $800 billion trucking industry was left out of the $2 trillion stimulus bill

In an unprecedented move, the Trump administration suspended an 82-year-old road safety law for some truck drivers, showing how much coronavirus is pressuring retailers and hospitals to maintain cleaning and medical supplies

America’s largest trucking companies won’t reveal how — or if — they’ll get their drivers home if they get coronavirus, and truckers are terrified

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