By Laura C. O'Neill, OOIDA Director of Government Affairs
“Why don’t truckers ever do a fly-in?” While you may not understand this oddly worded question often posed to me by Congressional staff on Capitol Hill, I know precisely what it means – having been in this business for quite a few years now.
Staff, often at the disadvantage of trying to write trucking legislation without the benefit of ever having seen the inside of cab, inquire of me frequently why truck drivers can’t as a unified force come to the nation’s Capitol and, as other associations might, conduct a series of meetings; host events and briefings; and attend receptions. Even though I find it frustrating to answer this question repeatedly, I simply reply “Well, where would they park the truck?” My response often evokes a thoughtful nod as the image of an 18-wheeler parked on the front lawn of the Capitol certainly comes to mind.
Although my response helps answer the immediate question (and allows me to segue into a broader discussion about a truck parking shortage), it doesn’t solve the larger problem. Congressional staffers need to hear firsthand from the men and women behind the wheel.
At OOIDA, we are fully aware that special-interest groups spend thousands, if not millions, organizing large “fly-ins” for corporate executives to schmooze with lawmakers in DC. But owner-operators don’t have that luxury, at minimum because of a lack of time and resources.
While we encourage OOIDA members to regularly call the Capitol switchboard and reach out to offices via telephone or email, nothing can replace the feeling of meeting with truckers and hearing their story face to face. After all, OOIDA’s biggest asset is its members.
Faced with this conundrum, we recently decided to embark on a new endeavor. We hosted what we hope is the first to come in a series of “round tables,” which are premised upon the idea that if the trucker can’t come to DC, well … DC will come to the trucker.
In mid-October, I met up with eight OOIDA members in Beckley, WV, at a travel plaza to facilitate a discussion with House Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Nick Rahall, D-WV.
For about an hour over some Cinnabons and a few cups of Starbucks coffee, we chatted about CSA, Jason’s Law, EOBRs, speed limiters, cross-border trucking and the stranglehold certain EPA regulations are having on the industry. In other words, all of those things discussed in transportation circles that have real life implications on men and women who are rarely directly part of the conversation. This time, however, they were. And the round table was, in my humble opinion, a huge success – particularly when the Congressman took us up on an offer to look inside a truck whose owner drives through his district regularly.
As an adamant opponent of “black boxes” in vehicles, the Congressman was gracious and seemed to appreciate the tour of the truck conducted by an OOIDA board member. In short, the interaction between our members and the Congressman was priceless because faces and families were put to the struggle that is often glossed over and dismissed as rhetoric and exaggeration by our opposition.
Mr. Rahall is a veteran of the House of Representatives and certainly knows transportation. But I think all would agree that those cups of coffee went a long way in humanizing the issues that come across his desk daily and that they were every bit as valuable as the expensive fly-ins other associations might host.
After all, those special interest groups may have wine and cheese, but we have the folks who are out on the roads every day hauling the wine and cheese. That, with the truth, is a pairing you can’t manufacture no matter how many folks you fly in.
So pour the coffee, pull up a chair, and let’s talk trucking. LL