In meetings May 18 - 20, the OOIDA board of directors discussed strategies to promote the passage of OOIDA's mandatory fuel surcharge bill, HR 4441.
The bill was introduced in mid-May by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) and co-sponsored by Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO). If the bill passes, it will provide relief from future spikes in the price of diesel fuel. "Temporarily rolling back fuel taxes or dipping into the reserves won't solve the problem," said board member Mark Elrod. "And Congress has already rejected the fuel tax idea. This bill will give us protection for the next fuel crisis and all the ones after that."
"We have to do everything we can to get this bill passed," said board member Jim Matthews. "We need to get the word out because truckers are the only ones who can make it happen."
Plans were made for a call to action, web site alerts and Land Line articles (see page 24) to recommend that truckers contact their elected officials and urge passage of the bill. Board members decided they would pay personal visits to their own representatives and senators at their local offices during the Memorial Day break. "Face-to-face contact tells lawmakers and their staff that this is very important to you," said board member Bill Rode. "It also gives you a chance to convince them of the seriousness of the issue and answer their questions."
Board member Ray Kasicki expressed hopes that truckers would take the time to contact Reps. Rahall and Blunt as well. "We need to thank these men for working with us to formulate a long-range plan to protect us from these fuel price spikes," he said.
Debate on the proposed hours-of-service rule occupied the board for an entire afternoon. Board members took the position that solo drivers should be permitted to split their rest periods into two (minimum) five-hour segments to give the rule the flexibility it lacks. The government's proposal does allow team drivers to split sleeper time, but not solo drivers. Recognizing the diversity of loading and unloading schedules of shippers and receivers across the country and time zone variances, the board feels rigid fourteen-hour on duty schedules would create havoc with scheduling and significantly disrupt the movement of freight. Board members feel their position supports safe operations. As board member Woody Chambers put it, "Any trucker sleeping in a parked truck is going to get a lot better sleep than somebody trying to sleep while a truck is moving. So if it's safe for a team driver to split sleeper time, it has to be just as safe (and probably a lot safer) for a solo driver to split sleeper time."
The OOIDA board opposes the requirement for on-board recording devices, with the issue of privacy their top concern. Economics also plays a role in their opposition, as current realistic estimates put the price of a "black box" at $3,000 with an additional $300 per year in maintenance costs. With the current price of fuel, board members say such a requirement coupled with the proposed reduction in available hours they can work will drive many owner-operators out of business.
Although most industry groups indicated they would ask for an extension of the comment period on the proposed HOS rule, the OOIDA board voted not to ask for an extension. The consensus was that the process has dragged on long enough and it was time to fix the proposal and get a workable rule in place.
Board members heard reports of the phenomenal growth of the association, with membership passing the 51,000 mark. Updates on existing programs were given, as well as progress in developing new programs. (OOIDA hopes to announce a discount tire purchase program and a retirement planning program sometime this year.) Ideas for future educational and outreach projects were discussed, including ideas for instructional videos and booklets. Details relating to a new OOIDA Safety Awards program were addressed, and members can expect to receive information on the program in a few months.
The board heard a report on the status of OOIDA's legal actions. OOIDA general counsel Paul Cullen discussed the importance of the April decision by the Supreme Court not to hear Prime's appeal on the question of jurisdiction in OOIDA's case against them. This allows the decision of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, upholding private right of action, to stand and the case against Prime to proceed on its merits.
Cullen also reported that the court rejected Arctic's motion to dismiss OOIDA's case against them, and that case is now in the process of class certification. It was noted that these cases will be of historic importance, not solely for owner-operators directly involved, but for the precedents that victories in these cases will set.
Other issues discussed by the board included upcoming cargo securement rules, engine brake legislation, lumping, split speed limits, ton-mile taxes, time limits on rest area parking, vehicle registration and marking, construction zone tie-ups and drug testing rules.