Cover Story
Fighting for Change
It’s not just a job; it’s personal

By Laura C. O'Neill, OOIDA Director of Government Affairs

As I am writing this article, I am still riding high from a landslide victory in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee markup.

An amendment backed and supported strongly by OOIDA essentially defeated a provision in the House’s version of the highway bill, which would have allowed increased truck weights to 97,000 pounds and, in some cases, to as much as 126,000 pounds.

The Association was out in front of this issue weeks before a draft of the bill even began to circulate. We dug in and fought the well-funded, organized political opponents. They had literally hundreds of boots on the ground here in DC – out there spinning the message that these mammoth machines wouldn’t damage our deteriorating roads or create unsafe conditions.

David doesn’t always beat Goliath in DC, but this time he did.

Although the committee markup wound up at 3 a.m., it’s not my coffee that is keeping me awake this morning. It’s the settling feeling that the good guys won.

You see, I love my job and it isn’t because I have the chance to attend galas, fancy dinners and presidential speeches. It’s because I have the chance to fight for some of the hardest working and most decent people I have ever met, and they trust me to carry their message.

We try to keep our finger on the pulse of what is happening here in DC that will affect the small carriers and the employee drivers. When we catch wind of something, we send it out to the OOIDA members – who make their voices known, often quite loudly.

I can’t express how critical it was to have the OOIDA membership mobilize. Congress was flooded with calls and letters. You conveyed the effect that a dramatic increase in truck size and weight would have on small-business truckers.

So many times these past couple of weeks we had the privilege of saying: “Don’t believe me. Believe our members who are calling you and telling you that they can’t afford to upgrade their equipment or they simply don’t feel safe operating a 126,000-pound truck.”

Hearing firsthand from our members makes it personal. And to me, it’s what makes this not just a job.

The passion that truckers and their families express can be powerful, especially in the times of tragedy.

Through this job, I have become good friends with a woman named Sarah VanWasshnova, who lost her trucker husband in a low-speed collision. Since that awful day, Sarah has championed the cause for air bags in trucks and raising the cab crashworthiness standards.

Sarah has been to DC a few times, and I have cried with her in meetings and held her hand while she recounted over and over again one of the worst days of her life. It’s knowing Sarah that makes me watch the highway bill like a hawk and ask “Is Sarah’s language in there?” and sometimes demand of staffers “We need Sarah’s language!”

Hope Rivenburg is another widow, whose trucker husband was murdered in a brutal robbery, who has since that devastating day taken up the cause of lobbying for increased and accessible truck parking. She does this so that drivers no longer have to risk their lives just to catch some rest. Though the bill, Jason’s Law, is named after her husband, Hope’s work and our interactions with her make it personal.

The stories and concerns of our membership are what keep us going here in DC. Believe me, it isn’t all that glamorous.

Yesterday, as my colleague Ryan Bowley and I sat in the hearing room waiting for the markup, we were surrounded by the usual cast of characters: lobbyists from the ATA, Teamsters, UPS, chambers, railroads … you name it. Well-funded and well-organized.

We couldn’t help but look around, and feel a bit intimidated. But in the middle of it, we received a number of emails from OOIDA headquarters that included personal messages about how folks had called and written their congressmen.

Ryan turned to me and said, “I love hearing that. That’s what it’s about.” He said it perfectly.

Our members, and hearing their stories, is what it is all about. LL