Washing Insider
Same old issues, same old battles? Definitely not

By Laura O'Neill-Kaumo, director of government affairs/counsel

Recently, I was emailed an article from a colleague about various trucking issues dominating the conversation in Washington, D.C. The article waxed on about hours of service, technological "safety" devices, bigger and heavier trucks … as I searched for the point as to why this article was consuming precious space in my crowded inbox. Then it struck me.

The article was from 1984!

My colleague was making the point that the conversations haven't changed much. You still have the same dynamic of carriers trying to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of their drivers, while pushing the economics downward so that it's increasingly difficult to make a living. Somehow small businesses have managed to prevail, but will that continue to be the case?

We fight the dynamic mentioned above every day on Capitol Hill, and we continue to be the lone voice representing the interests of the owner-operators and independent drivers behind the wheel.

We've had some great victories, but here is what is different in the advocacy world. In the seven years I have been associated with OOIDA, I have never seen the arguments be so anti-small business and safety, while claiming to be advocating for the exact opposite.

Certain special interest groups are simply seeking to destroy a once thriving economic model through conversations that are overly simplistic and self-serving. For example, we are seeing attempts to raise the required level of financial responsibility from $750,000 to upwards of $4 million. This has the potential to devastate independents in the industry. Yet those complaining about a driver shortage are saying very little.

OOIDA's membership is a cross-section of the safest drivers on the road. The average profile of our membership is 20-plus years in the industry and 2 million miles accident free. We are the drivers those special interest groups should be supporting. Yet they are advocating, without any demonstration, that the insurance requirements correlate to highway safety. That the required levels should be increased.

Further, we make the argument every single day that economics play a role in safety. If the industry works collaboratively to make sure that drivers are getting paid the money that they've earned and are entitled to, then you will see longevity among drivers, positive safety correlations, and a growing class of professional drivers. Yet so-called safety advocates have also said very little on things like detention time and mileage pay, while corporate interests seek to not only discourage anything but mileage pay, but outright prohibit it.

Further, those large corporate interests, who are arguably contributors to the 1 percent of accidents considered to be catastrophic and beyond the current levels of average insurance coverage, are pushing for 18-year-olds to be able to obtain CDLs to help address the perceived driver shortage. How is it that so much of the industry recognizes the need to preserve the model for independent contractors and yet seeks to simultaneously push for policy changes that shrink the professional class of drivers?

We as a profession are fighting for our lives. I don't mean to start the doomsday clock, but we - the class of owner-operators, independents and professional drivers - need to remind the industry and advocates affecting the industry that we are of tremendous value. To paraphrase the words of Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men" as Commander Jessup: "You want us on that wall. You need us on that wall."

We at OOIDA will continue fighting for the issues that help preserve the class of professional drivers out there. We will be on the wall for you, but it is imperative you continue to be a part of the conversation. Please communicate with your lawmakers regularly, because the other side certainly is. LL