Our Guests: Chuck White and Dan Bradley of the International Association of Movers (IAM)
Chuck: I’m the President of IAM and an Army brat. We work closely with TRANSCOM and sometimes get into very heated discussions about the industry. There is so much going on in the PCS and transportation industry right now!
Dan: I’m the Director of Govt and Military Relations. I did 20 years as an Air Force logistics officer, and have done some civilian time as well. There is certainly a lot happening with the DoD and the moving world right now, and we want to discuss those struggles.
DoD Updates: As soon as you get your orders, go on DPS and set up your move. There may be severe time crunch issues this summer. We love our pets, and the Army made it a little easier to move them. Army Emergency Relief (AER) is now offering a 0% interest loan to help with pet shipping expenses during a PCS. The other branch relief societies have loan and grant regulations to help with this issue as well.
Peak season began on May 15. How does this year compare to pre-COVID 2019 and last year during COVID?
Chuck: We are not seeing the same rebound in our labor forces that we hoped to see. We thought that once things reopened, we would see labor coming out of the woodwork. Instead, people are still staying at home and our labor force is only at about 75% of our regular force. In many areas, the government support is still strong and people can make more staying home than they can as movers.
Last year, the DoD was really limiting the number of moves and monitoring them on a weekly basis because we were in a pandemic environment. Some of that has fallen by the wayside. There was pent-up demand from people who didn’t move during the pandemic, and military schools are now back in full swing. We are seeing a perfect storm of demand, and we are having trouble meeting the demand of our industry. We can handle a little more than 3 out of 4 requested moves. If there is any way that someone can push their PCS to the right (delay a few weeks or months) then we are begging you to do that. You are not getting moved in June if you haven’t yet booked your move, and you may not get moved until late July or August.
Dan: We have important calls twice a week to discuss conditions with the DoD. The tension levels are rising on those calls because of constraints usually in June and July. We were seeing that level of frustration in May. We are hearing from agents who only have half the personnel they usually have, and their capacity affects the number of people driving trucks, packing Household Goods, shipping by rail or through ports, etc. Everything is constrained all the way along the line. 2019 was a decent year for statistics and customer satisfaction surveys. Shipments were being metered out and planned to spread out throughout the summer. On the commercial side, people are blacking out move dates all the way until the end of August right now. If the DoD doesn’t start acknowledging that we can’t move people until August, then it will continue to affect people throughout the summer.
Do we think that peak season happened earlier this year? Or will it extend?
Chuck: It’s a domino effect. The concerns with peak season started earlier. It’s directly related to the pandemic and government funding to help relief programs, and all the backlog of families who need to move. So it started earlier and it’s going to go later. I’ve been in this business 27 years. We used to think a peak season was mid-May to August. It has continued to be constrained to where everyone wants to move around the end of May and the beginning of June. This year, I think we are going back to the traditional dates all the way through July and August being busy. People are saying this is the worst peak season I’ve ever seen in terms of capacity. The quality movers are there, but they just don’t have enough trained people to serve the demand we have out there.
How does the labor shortage affect the ability to serve families who need to PCS?
Chuck: Everything is constrained. Where I used to have maybe 15 trucks a day in one agency, now there are only 11 or 12 trucks in that agency. So offering several fewer shipments per day presents a huge backup over time.
Dan: The labor shortage isn’t just in the moving industry. But now, if a truck breaks down, the tow truck and mechanic companies are also facing labor shortages. So now the recovery elements that the industry had in the past simply aren’t there. It’s more difficult to find a replacement truck, replacement crew, etc. Transportation in every industry is delayed–from truck parts to anything else you may imagine.
Chuck: IAM has done a white paper about the supply chain crisis, about how everything slowed down at the beginning of the pandemic, and how things are still taking months to get cleared. Los Angeles is backed up with 30 ships sitting out in the ocean because the ports are so congested. Then getting those container ships unloaded and onto rail or driven by trucks–everything is a nightmare right now.
What about all the people who are planning a PPM?
Chuck: If you are planning to hire any help or a truck, you need to plan ahead and reserve things a month in advance! Everyone is moving at this point. We have a new term in the industry called de-location. Now that so many people are doing remote work, there are tons of people moving away from high-cost areas into more remote areas. If you want to plan a PPM and get a truck or a POD or something like that, you still need to book as early as you can. Don’t think just because you are doing it yourself that you don’t have to worry about these issues.
A lot of families are feeling forced into PPM moves this year. What should families look for when trying to hire help with a PPM?
Chuck: Go to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA.gov) where you can easily find a list of folks that are properly licensed and insured, you can look at their safety measures. There are rogue movers who are criminals, who are looking to get your shipment, hold it hostage, and charge you money to get it back. Don’t just go to Google and book any company with a website. Those are brokers, not movers. They will take your move and your money, then hand you off to a mover who may not be licensed. You can also go to our website, IAMovers.org, where there is a link to the Mobility Exchange. This is a directory with a validation process for our members. You can find properly inspired and validated movers on that site so you can find someone where some vetting has been done.
Dan: If you call a company and they say they will take care of it right away and seem too eager to help you, that should be a red flag. Do some research and ask them how they will handle it, who they will pass it off to, etc. Just because they are eager to help you doesn’t mean they are a legitimate company.
Is there a difference between using a storage company vs. a freight company?
Chuck: There are three different types of companies– a motor carrier, a freight forwarder, and a broker.
If someone is dropping off a container or a trailer at your house, there are legitimate companies that do that: ABF freight for example. You have to pack it yourself, but then they will send a driver to pick it up and deliver it to your location. This is very similar to a PODS or Pack Rat. That’s a motor carrier.
A freight forwarder is a company that arranges moves and takes on the liability. They are a single point of contact that helps arrange all the details of your move. These are companies that have contracts overseas and can also handle domestic moves.
Brokers do not have any liability at all. They pass it off to someone else and wash their hands of it.
How can service members get reimbursed at 100% for the cost of a PPM?
Megan: Yes, you have to get it approved in advance through the Transportation Office. This year, yes, you should get reimbursed at 100% of the weight and distance it would cost the government to move it. So that way, if you are forced into a PPM, you can file for the reimbursement and get some money back in your pocket.
Chuck: It used to be only a 95% reimbursement, and it is thanks to Megan here that the industry listened and decided to move it up to 100%, so we all owe Megan some thinks here for getting that rule changed.
How will this affect overseas moves, since you have to wait for hard orders to schedule a move?
Chuck: This is a double effect–the same people are doing domestic and international moves for military families. So even if your orders are last minute and you need to move quickly, you face the same delays and challenges. You have to request either a delayed report date, or the service member has to move ahead of time without the spouse and dependents. As a result of this supply chain crisis, there is a real wood problem. Overseas shipments are all put into wooden containers. The cost of wood has gone up 250%. Each crate for international shipments is not only very expensive, but now we can’t get them. It takes 6 weeks just to get those containers delivered. This is another restraint on capacity.
Dan: The moving companies originally were paying more for all wood products–not just crates, but also paper! And they were concerned they wouldn’t be reimbursed for this. IAM put together a team to account for some of this cost and help out with crating costs and wood packing materials. In 2020, the demand for wood went down, and mills closed around the world. The availability became problematic. Trying to turn that back on when people have left and found other jobs is not an instant fix. Ships bringing wood to the United States are being delayed for weeks at ports.
Do we expect these challenges to continue into 2022?
Chuck: I think things are going to get better next year. Labor will start to come back and we will be past some of the pandemic headaches. But we will still be dealing with the Global Household Goods Contract that is set to be awarded this year and begin implementation in 2022. There is a lot of discussion going on in the industry and a lot of trepidation about what role people will play in the future. As things start to stabilize in the supply chains and markets, yes, things will improve, but there will still be a major question mark hanging over our industry.
What is the Fall of 2021 looking like?
Dan: It will probably be busier than normal this fall because of trying to catch up. Last fall was busier because of all the Stop Move orders that delayed moves. On the calls we have been on, people have said the DoD has moved everyone they needed to move last year. To me, there seems to be a latent build-up, but we are currently tracking similar numbers to pre-pandemic years.
Chuck: We are moving about 10,000 people per week right now! We had settled on a sweet spot of 9,000 per week during peak season, and we were at that point for a long time after the Stop Move last year. We are being told there is no backlog, but we are back over what the targets were, and we are doing it with about 75% of the workforce. It’s a difficult season for everyone.
How does the decline in moving company capacity and the DoD budget cuts affect a PCS move this year?
Chuck: The budgets have already been set in previous years for this. There are future budgets that will be affected starting in the next fiscal year. So budget cuts won’t have an effect right now, and ultimately shouldn’t affect PCS budgets too much. There should be no effect this year, but maybe nominal effects in the future.
Dan: In the past, I have seen that declining budgets lead to policy changes, such as limiting orders or limiting moves at certain ranks or jobs. They try to curtail the requirement for moves. We asked for a surcharge for wood-packing, and the services have to find that money somewhere. I think personnel policy would take that over rather than us trying to cut down moves. I do remember one time years ago when the Navy just said they wouldn’t PCS anyone else that year until the new fiscal year began.
Can we pick our moving company if the military is moving us?
Yes, sometimes. When you set up your move in DPS, you can select a preferred and non-preferred TSP. You can make that request. It is just a request, so sometimes it works out and sometimes it does not. If that company is completely full for your location, they may not be able to accept your request. But they can look at the request and try to make that happen for you.
What would your ideal solutions be to fix the problems this year?
Chuck: I would love to find more qualified labor for moving companies, which would solve a ton of ills. States are starting to say no to some of the supplemental income, and federal aid goes away in August, so we’ll see where that goes. I would get with the personnel community to set our peak numbers around 9,000 moves per week to provide an environment where people are getting the best possible experience. When we keep trying to overload the system is when problems occur.
Dan: I would like to see even lower numbers of moves per week. We had seen over two years that once moves go over 8,000 per week, that’s when the customer survey responses had increased complaints. With less labor, that 8,000 number is more realistic, and it may need to be even lower than that. We have to push some moves to the right (delay on the calendar). On the industry side, we need to improve communication. We don’t want customers standing in their door waiting when no movers are going to show up. We want to improve all cases. The fewer people we have to communicate with, the smoother it goes, so we may be trying to move too many people at a time.
Chuck: People often don’t understand just how many people the DoD moves. Some large companies only move 5,000 employees a year! The DoD moves at least that many every single week! It’s the largest moving program in the world, and they control and make determinations about the entire worldwide moving industry. The DoD has 350,000- 400,000 moves per year.
What can we do if we have a bad experience with a moving company during a PPM?
Chuck: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is the entity that oversees household good moves interstate in the United States. They have a big stick with licensure and the potential loss of licensure. So you can go there and alert them if you are having problems.
If a company is holding your goods hostage, there is a company called Move Rescue that is operated by Allied Van Lines and Mayflower moving that can assist you in that situation.
IAM also has a lot of influence over our own members. We have done a lot of research to be able to give those resources to military families. We all want to help and support military families.
If you are moving within a state, there are moving associations and licensure groups in that particular state. Some of these are robust groups that ensure consumers are protected. So there are definitely outlets that can assist you when you encounter a problem.
You can also review your moving company on PCSgrades, so other military families can learn the pros and cons of your moving experience.