I attended the Mid-America Trucking Show in March and was glad to see so many OOIDA members and Land Line readers there. I made some new friends and saw quite a few old ones. Red Book had our booth as usual, and after a rough year for trucking in 2000, I made it a point to ask questions of people who came by about the state of the union. I heard quite a few encouraging comments from you. Things didn’t seem so dismal as they had at the last couple of shows that I attended. Many of you told me that fuel prices, while still high, had leveled out somewhat. Then, just last week, prices went up 15 cents a gallon. Another kick in the teeth.
I was thinking over the weekend what I was going to write about in this column, and then it hit me. Even I, being in the business, sometimes take for granted how the produce, meat, bread and all the other products that I buy in the grocery store get there. Trucks bring them. You bring them. You help feed this country. You help clothe this country. And you deserve better.
How does this little sermon have anything to do with hauling produce? I think that when it comes to hauling produce, truckers can face more atrocities and unfair trading practices than in most other commodities that you could haul. Many of you have stated to me in person, over the phone or through letters, “what can be done?” In my opinion, the playing field needs to be leveled. Truckers need to have the same rights that shippers and buyers currently have. Can this happen? Maybe, if enough truckers step up to the plate and make their voices heard.
One of the biggest problems in the produce industry is the receivers that have a “stick it to the truck” attitude. They figure that there always will be another truck, so why not claim this one? They know that most owner-operators usually don’t have the time and resources to fight an unjust claim, so they will elect to walk away and cut their losses. There are also shippers who prey on drivers by talking them into loading questionable product. A claim usually waits at the other end. I certainly don’t mean that all receivers and shippers are looking to claim the truck. Most aren’t. The ones who are do it boldly and blatantly, and on a regular basis.
I know OOIDA helps its members with claims and collections on produce loads. Red Book is a resource on these issues as well. I can only speak from Red Book’s point of view, and I can tell you that we have nothing with teeth in the way of laws or regulations to help the truck with produce loads. Very few lawyers are knowledgeable in produce trucking matters. I can talk about these problems until I’m blue in the face – I have been for 22 years. What I can’t do is to get laws established to cover produce loads. I can’t get the PACA to cover trucking disputes and claims and give the trucks the same rights that shippers and receivers have. Only you, the trucking industry, can force changes. There is certainly strength in numbers, and the trucking industry has those numbers.
In order for Congress to come up with solutions for produce trucking and give you the safeguards you deserve, lawmakers need to be pushed by a force with some muscle. I would encourage you to document your complaints on produce loads and send them to OOIDA. Sitting around complaining is not going to get the job done.