Issues & Positions
Has it really been that long?

At the November 2000 meeting of the OOIDA board of directors I received the honor of a special recognition from the board for 25 years of service as president of OOIDA. The recognition wasn't anything fancy or elaborate because as you well know, truckers aren't big on ceremony. You have a job to do, and you're expected to do your best. I guess that's really what made this special recognition so rewarding to me. That and the fact that they also appointed me to a sixth five-year term as president.

As you might imagine, crossing this milestone has caused me to do some reflecting back over the past 25 years, 27 actually since a group of us got together and started the association in late 1973. In 1975, when I was appointed by the board of directors to my first term as president, there really wasn't much competition for the job. We had gone from about 3,000 members, who had kicked in some financial support during the '73-'74 shutdowns, down to 35 dues-paying members and 21 of the 35 were the board of directors.

Truckers were justifiably suspicious and reluctant to support this new organization that claimed it was going to represent their interests. With just one full-time employee (me) and some volunteer help, we launched into the task of proving that we could do the job and earn the necessary support to build resources and provide the depth of representation so badly needed.

In 1975, when I was appointed to my first term as president, there really wasn't much competition for the job

The first five years were really hard but we did achieve some gains both in membership and in accomplishment of some of our regulatory objectives including passage of the ICC truth-in-leasing regulations. By 1980, and my appointment to a second term, we had reached about 1,200 members with a full-time staff of six employees. We had also put together some benefit programs that helped to attract and retain members and also provide an additional revenue source to help in funding our representational goals.

By 1985, and the beginning of my third term as president, we had been through yet another energy crisis, another truck shutdown and deregulation of the trucking industry which we had unsuccessfully opposed. Our membership and resources were growing but not nearly fast enough to deal effectively with the whole new set of problems brought on by deregulation of the industry. Uniform nationwide size and weight limits had also been achieved which was one of our initial goals. We were also in the middle of working with the states, under federal oversight, to establish uniform licensing and permitting for commercial trucks. We had reached about 6,000 or 7,000 members and a full-time staff of about 25 employees.

By 1990, and the beginning of my fourth term, we had significantly increased our rate of growth. We were at approximately 14,000 members with a staff of 50. We also were administering most of our member benefit programs, including insurance, in-house. The increased income from these programs, along with the increased membership support, enabled us to put together the beginnings of a very effective litigation program. We had several lawsuits underway against states over unconstitutional taxing mechanisms and had intervened on behalf of our members in several other suits brought by ATA and private carriers. We also began the process of initiating legal action against the state of Tennessee over inspection practices that violated the rights of professional truckers.

By 1995, we were well over 25,000 members and had won every suit we filed against state truck taxes. We had also won the suit against Tennessee, which resulted in the abolishment of the Tennessee Public Service Commission. Our membership numbers were growing at an ever-increasing rate along with our ability to provide representation in the courts, in the regulatory agencies and in Congress. We succeeded in gaining passage of the private right of action to enforce the almost forgotten leasing regulations in the courts instead of having to depend on an unwilling bureaucracy for enforcement.

We are now at over 58,000 members with a staff of over 150 employees. We have lawsuits pending against four states over collection of fuel taxes on toll road miles; against two truckstop chains over credit card surcharges; and against almost a dozen motor carriers who have chosen to ignore the leasing regulations. These motor carriers use their economic power over professional truckers to take advantage of the relationships and deprive them of the ability to earn an honest living. We have improved our effectiveness in influencing regulatory initiatives to a degree that professional truckers will never again be left without input and influence over regulatory initiatives that affect them.

We are now at 58,000 members with a staff of over 150 employees

We have a system and staffing in place capable of affecting and influencing legislative issues in Congress. But most important, we have a growing and active membership that is willing to stand up and speak out and fight for the important objectives. And while we certainly won't win on every issue, this is the power that will continue to increase our effectiveness.

The plaque that the Board presented me in recognition of my 25 years as president of OOIDA states: "To Jim Johnston on the 25th Anniversary as President of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. A Quarter Century of Dedication, Determination, Perseverance and Extraordinary Accomplishments."

I will lay claim to the dedication, determination and perseverance part, but as for the extraordinary accomplishments, in my view, those still lay ahead of us. When they are achieved, it will be because truckers came together and fought for them.

To our current members, my appreciation for helping to make the small successes of the past possible. To those who are still waiting to see if we can do the job, think of what we could have accomplished over the past couple decades with more support. But even more important, think of what we can accomplish in the future with a majority of us working together. Together we won't just be fighting to keep from losing more, we'll be fighting to regain what was lost in the past and for what should have been but never was.

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and for a more prosperous New Year.