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Spiraling fuel prices spur surcharge legislation effort

Paul Cullen Jr.
The Cullen Law Firm, PLLC

As fuel prices skyrocket and protests break out at ports on both coasts, OOIDA has ramped up its efforts to push mandatory fuel surcharge legislation.

OOIDA’s draft legislation would require all truckload carriers, brokers and freight forwarders to impose a fuel surcharge. If they use owner-operators, they must pass on the fuel surcharge to them. The proposed fuel surcharge mirrors those already put in place by bigger trucking companies.

The association is working behind the scenes with key legislators and transportation committee staff members to convince them of the need for the legislation. The next step is to attach the proposal to a bill to any legislation that will pass quickly.

Opposition to surcharge legislation has come mostly from big carriers and shippers. Without fail, big carriers who oppose such a measure already get a surcharge from their shippers. These carriers view the failure and elimination of smaller carriers from the marketplace as their opportunity to increase market share.

Meanwhile, shippers complain they already pay a fuel surcharge and shouldn’t have to pay twice. But OOIDA’s draft bill says if a shipper already pays a fuel surcharge, the mandatory surcharge would not apply. The bill would still require, though, that if an owner-operator is hauling their freight and paying for fuel, that the motor carrier must pass on the surcharge to the owner-operator. Shippers should be pleased to know that any fuel surcharge they pay goes to the person who pays for fuel rather than being pocketed by the carrier who doesn’t.

Fuel surcharge legislation would be the most efficient solution to providing economic relief to small-business truckers. Recent trucker protests in Oakland, CA, Portsmouth, VA, and most recently in Houston show the level of frustration among owner-operators regarding fuel prices. But they also show the difficulty owner-operators have in negotiating a solution. Because owner-operators are independent businesses rather than employees, they risk possible federal antitrust legal problems should they take collective, group action to strike, boycott or negotiate.

As a result, several dozen owner-operators in Oakland had to negotiate higher rates individually with the same carrier. This made the negotiation process cumbersome and inefficient.

While OOIDA encourages all small-business truckers to individually bill shippers with a fuel surcharge when they can, mandatory fuel surcharge legislation would provide everyone a fuel surcharge without thousands of separate individual negotiations.

The legislation will not pass, however, without individual action. More than 5,000 letters to Congress were signed at the Mid-America Trucking Show in support of a fuel surcharge bill. This is an excellent start. Many more letters and telephone calls to each trucker’s representative and senators will be necessary to get this bill passed.

Defeating tolls on interstates: Eliminate Section 1609 from Senate bill
An impressive grassroots effort of telephone calls and letters from truck drivers prevailed upon the House of Representatives to eliminate several new highway toll proposals from the massive highway authorization bill now winding its way through Congress.

By a vote of 231 to 192, the House passed an amendment by Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-MN, that struck three liberal tolling provisions from the bill and replaced them with one that is far less onerous.

But there’s more work to be done. That’s because the Senate version of the highway bill contains Section 1609, which allows tolling on interstate highways.

OOIDA wants its members to write their representatives and senators and ask them to replace Section 1609 with the language in the House bill (Section 1603), which that allows new tolls only on newly constructed highway lanes. Use of those lanes would be optional to motorists, and the toll would be imposed only as long as necessary to pay for the new lane’s construction.

The following is a sample letter members can use:

“It is extremely important that Senator ___________ contact the lawmakers who are participating in the highway bill conference and tell them to reject Section 1609 of the Senate bill. That section has programs that would allow for tolling of existing interstate highways and would devastate the small-business truckers. If there must be a tolling program in the final version of the highway bill, Section 1603 of the House bill is the only one that is voluntary and fair.”

Write your U.S. elected officials at their Washington and/or local offices as soon as possible. Phone calls are also important, but letters are very effective, and we should have time over the next few weeks to make calls.

With lawmakers having to screen all their mail these days, letters take a little longer to get to their offices. If possible, fax your letter before mailing it in order to ensure that it gets the immediate attention that it deserves.

If you are not sure who your lawmakers are, simply phone the OOIDA Membership Department and they’ll look up the information for you. The toll-free number is 1-800-444-5791. If you know who they are but don’t have contact information, you can visit www.congress.orgwww.house.gov or www.senate.gov. You can also call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. If you’re home, try looking in the blue government pages in the phone book, or call local information.

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