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June Safety Month: What’s next?

Jim Johnston
PRESIDENT, OOIDA

As I write this editorial, the date is June 20. To be absolutely honest, I must confess that from the very beginning of putting together the concept and strategies for the June Safety Month project, I had many concerns as to its potential for success or failure. Those concerns, however, were not about the concept, because I have never had the slightest doubt that if a significant number of truckers took a determined, unified stand, they could effectively change the system.

There was no way in the planning stages and even into the first couple of weeks of June to predict either the level of participation or the reaction and possible counteraction we might face from motor carriers, brokers, shippers or receivers. In order to be able to respond quickly and effectively to any acts of coercion or intimidation that might be encountered, we put teams of attorneys from several law firms on standby. We also made initial contacts with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Department of Labor in preparation for gaining expedited action on potential complaints. In addition, we established a core group of our staff to man the phones for expanded hours in order to field calls on potential problems or questions that might arise.

Surprisingly, at least to this point, we have received far less than the expected number of reported attempts at coercion or intimidation. During the first two weeks of June, we did receive many reports from drivers of initial expressions of dissatisfaction from company representatives when advised that drivers would be logging all on-duty time. Most, however, did not push the issue to a point that would be considered intimidation and accepted the fact that they would need to work with the driver within the regulations. Some, although so far not many, have expressed and demonstrated their support for the effort.

On the other hand, we also received reports of threats and intimidation (a couple of offenders were even dumb enough to put it in writing). In every such case where we were able to obtain the driver’s permission, we immediately contacted company management. We advised them that if immediate steps were not taken to resolve the problem, all appropriate actions would be taken to see that it was corrected. Most, of course, claimed that this type of activity was against company policy and blamed it on the irresponsible actions of a rogue employee. They stated they would correct the problem immediately. For those few others who weren’t bright enough to plead ignorance or who implemented retaliatory actions, we are following up to ensure that they receive all of the appropriate attention they deserve.

The question is where are we now, and where do we go from here? While it’s still too early to gauge the level of participation or the full effect of this effort, there have been many indications of positive benefits. We have received many reports of substantially higher rates offered very quickly when the cheap loads were turned down.

Member Henry Albert reports he has had calls from brokers and carriers he has never heard of that are begging him to take loads. He said he got a call from a shipper that he hauls about three loads a year for needing his services “because of the truck shortage that is currently going on.” Another member reports that within an hour of turning down loads offered at $1.25 to $1.30 per mile, he was called back on the same loads at $1.50 to $2 per mile.

We are receiving other reports of reduced waiting time and better treatment at shipping and receiving docks. Some are reporting that the relief from the stress and fatigue alone is worth the effort. Others have been amazed at fuel mileage savings of more than a mile per gallon, substantially offsetting the fewer miles traveled at slower speeds.

It’s also evident that this effort did not achieve majority support. If it had, the improvements would have developed much quicker and would have been far more substantial. Old habits die slowly, and the productivity pressures that drivers face can be very difficult to overcome. Those of you who have demonstrated the ability, foresight and courage to take a stand against the significant problems that all professional truckers are faced with have contributed substantially to an important first step in beginning to resolve those problems.

Many of those who have contacted us have suggested that June Safety Month should be considered only a beginning of the longer effort that will be necessary to end the dangerous and destructive industry practices that drivers are subjected to. One member who hasn’t personally experienced a benefit stated that “even though I’m taking a beating financially, I would like to see this effort continue on past June because this is the only way we will regain control of our futures.”

It’s obvious from our June experience that the pressures on drivers to violate the regulations are a reality. We all knew it existed but we now have clear evidence to prove it. Many carriers that previously exerted only subtle, unprovable pressures in the past became much more blatant and obvious when faced with unaccustomed resistance. Shippers, receivers and brokers, who are not subject to the same regulatory controls, in many instances openly asked drivers to violate the regulations and in other instances, knowingly and without hesitation, forced drivers into situations that left them with no choice other than to be in violation.

Another and even more obvious fact that has been clearly demonstrated is that as long as drivers willingly accept what is expected of them or offered to them, the industry will continue to expect more and offer less in return. For some, this changed in June, and they have no intention of seeing it change back.

Unfortunately for professional drivers, in this industry the only thing you get without asking for it or demanding it is more of the same. Those who willingly give away their time hurt not only themselves, they diminish the value of everyone else’s time as well. Acceptance of cheap rates or less-than-adequate compensation contributes toward a lower standard for all drivers. And when you fail to resist the pressures of forced noncompliance, you add to the pressure on others to do the same.

In order to effect more meaningful change that benefits everyone, we must all stand together and say “NO MORE! IT’S TIME FOR A CHANGE!”

You will find a short response survey HERE.... I hope you will use it to give us your views on June Safety Month and whether this initiative should be continued. Your comments will determine our future course of action.

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