Washington Insider
Pulling the Hill

Danny Schnautz
OOIDA member
Pasadena, TX

Elvis sang “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” urging us to put aside what we think we know about a person by experiencing their life for a short time.

I did that on Sept. 27, when I ran with OOIDA’s Rod Nofziger, Mike Joyce and Melissa Theriault on Capitol Hill. We were trying to work some common sense into the rules for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program.

It was an eye-opener.

I walked in our lobbyists’ shoes much more than one mile that day in DC, and found out how hard they work. I’ve pulled flatbeds, containers and vans, and I have worked in an office. Lobbying is made up of more variables and less certainty than either truck driving or office work.

To illustrate the conditions our OOIDA representatives work in, some parallels to trucking are helpful. After all, who knows better than truckers about a day filled with frustration, changes, and long pulls up hills?

The process of gaining legislative support is complicated, but the four basic steps are:

  • building relationships;
  • distributing effective information;
  • convincing lawmakers of the worth of your causes; and
  • tenaciously following up.

Just like on the loading dock, “who you know” is crucial on Capitol Hill. You want to get loaded without waiting, so it helps to have good past experiences to pave the way.

No shipper or receiver wants to deal with grumpy drivers; a cheerful attitude works best. So it is in DC, where the lawmakers’ staffs have the ability to allow – or block – access to the lawmaker based upon their perception of the lobbyists’ sincerity and integrity.

OOIDA’s DC staff knows that success often depends more on relationships than on facts. All day we were received gladly and never rushed away. We are a welcome group in DC, a huge plus in getting work done.

Trucking issues are all around our lawmakers, but we must realize that has little meaning until they “get it.” Our OOIDA reps are on a long haul to help legislators understand our problems and to get them to care about trucking. Their communication tools are vital, especially with each other. Instead of Channel 19 you will find them on BlackBerry devices and cell phones.

In DC, there are ways to get things done, and ways you can get shut down. The city is a maze of streets, tunnels, stairs and security checkpoints. Making appointments on time is critical, because rescheduling is not always possible. You know how frustrating it is to be racing the clock and have a load cancel? For our DC three, that’s a way of life.

Their days start already planned and then changes start early. Appointments – five or more per day – are made days ahead but are canceled or changed with just minutes of notice. New options are considered: who is now available that was not before? How far away is that? Can I get there by then?

Truckers know how familiar this sounds.

The hectic pace does not let up. Remember standing in a truck stop phone room looking for a load? If you left the room, you risked missing the DAT chime for a new load. The DC three have to stay on their toes, because important breakthroughs can come without notice. They stay in overdrive all day. They often have to double back to get from one place to the next to meet their appointments, which are just minutes apart, as they accommodate the lawmakers’ schedules.

Our lobbyists sacrifice much of their personal time to attend functions that range from organized breakfasts to late-night meetings. Their time is seldom their own, as they make the most of wherever they are: waiting for the subway, eating lunch, or out with family at the ball game.

It’s a crazy life, but they take their “A-game” wherever they go. It’s similar to how a clean and well-maintained truck and trailer sets you apart from others and shows a shipper that you mean business.

For our DC lobbyists, sharp attire, neat appearance and first-rate presentations count. They are slick, an air-ride crew on the rough road of the Hill, doing their best to represent all 145,000 of us OOIDA members to people that we will never meet.

On Capitol Hill, our OOIDA crew faces tough challenges, competing with other lobbyists for lawmakers’ time and for support on issues. Much like trucking, it’s not always fair, but the efforts of our DC three are highly effective and have brought great results to us.

Our OOIDA lobbyists are guided by a vision of trucking that is efficient, fair and profitable, but they are not working alone. Like truckers, who need dispatchers, mechanics and shipping clerks, Rod, Mike and Melissa count on their contacts, each other, the OOIDA staff and directors.

They also count on us, all of the members of OOIDA. Each letter, call and visit to lawmakers that we make gives the DC three a downhill tailwind. They give us their best; we owe that back to them.

So, this was what I learned as a Washington insider: Trucking would be on the shoulder without the fantastic work of our very own large cars on Capitol Hill. Thanks to them, we are miles ahead.

Danny Schnautz has been an active member of OOIDA since 1993. He is the son of owner-operator and member Ray Schnautz. Danny’s personal involvement with the trucking industry dates back to when he began driving a truck in a Texas oilfield during high school. A former long-haul driver, he is now operations manager for Clark Freight Lines, Pasadena, TX, a position he has held since 1990. (See page 28 for details about Danny’s testimony on the TWIC program before a Congressional committee.)