SPECIAL REPORT: Shutdown talk heats up; OOIDA flooded with calls

| 3/27/2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008 – From the Atlantic to the Pacific the price of diesel is topping $4 a gallon, and truckers across the country are running not only out of money, but also out of patience.

Calls and e-mails to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association have been increasing as mainstream media outlets have picked up and reported numerous rumors about possible strikes and temporary shutdowns. In fact, OOIDA operators who normally handle about 11,500 calls every week have talked to hundreds more truckers during the past two weeks than usual.

Talk of American truckers possibly staging a shutdown is being reported around the world. In France, Agence France-Presse picked up a news story out of Indiana about how truckers in that Midwestern state are comparing the current fuel crisis to the early 1970s.

Jim Johnston, OOIDA’s president and CEO and one of its founders, also remembers the desperate days of the 1970s. He said today that even though federal law prohibits OOIDA from calling for a strike because it is a trade association, OOIDA will always do its best to represent the interest of its members whether they are running or shutdown because of a lack of compensating revenue.

“Even back in the 1970s, when we saw nearly 100 percent of truckers participating in strikes, it did not lower fuel prices,” Johnston said. “Short-term relief from the situation then was the result of a temporary implementation of a mandatory fuel surcharge.

“However, we wouldn’t see that same kind of immediate result today because in the ’70s the ICC (Interstate commerce Commission) was still in place and rates were regulated. Rates are not regulated today, and there is not a government agency that could simply institute a rate increase or surcharge.”

Not only does the concept of a strike not add up economically for Johnston and other OOIDA leaders, but there is also the possibility of threat of federal prosecution if the Association is involved in such activities.

“It’s not a matter of OOIDA being for strikes or against strikes,” said Norita Taylor, OOIDA’s media affairs spokesperson. “Jim can’t help our members or other truckers if he’s in jail on federal charges.

“Criminal penalties could be imposed, those businesses and individuals who claim to be adversely affected by a strike action could initiate civil lawsuits, and the existence of the Association could be jeopardized.”

OOIDA is taking action
OOIDA is leading the way in speaking to mainstream media on a daily basis about how fuel prices are affecting independent truckers and the future health of the industry. Taylor said Thursday morning that in just the first three days this week she handled calls from 29 different media outlets, ranging from local newspapers to national television networks.

In recent weeks the Association has assisted dozens of other national journalists with information and background details, put them in touch with OOIDA members for interviews, and even arranged ride-alongs. OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer appears almost daily on syndicated news shows.

Among the information that OOIDA staff tries to clarify for mainstream media and the general public is that increases in the price of consumer goods that are being attributed to shipping costs are not the fault of the truckers. OOIDA staff explains that the individual truckers are generally not receiving those additional fuel surcharges that are being charged to shippers. 

On the legislative front, OOIDA is pushing for new legislation called the FITT ACT – Fairness In Trucking Transactions. This would call for disclosure of fuel surcharges on freight transactions and a 100 percent pass-through of the surcharge to the individual who actually pays for the fuel. Soon the Association will be urging members to contact lawmakers to support this legislation.

The Association has also petitioned the Bush administration to immediately cease the diversion of oil supplies to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and instead allow the product to directly enter the marketplace. OOIDA also asked that the administration use its authority and influence to ensure that American fuel producers and refiners cease their exports of diesel and biodiesel products to other nations.

Other things individual truckers can do
With the economic situation is expected to take some time to resolve, OOIDA is encouraging its members and other individual truckers to take every action they can to take control of their individual business operations to ensure their futures.

Johnston said that he and OOIDA staff are upset and frustrated and active on this issue.

“We completely empathize with the current conditions they face,” Johnston said. “However, fuel prices are market driven and being additionally affected by a weak dollar and high trading volumes in oil investments as opposed to any actual lack of supply.

“We are encouraging members to take full control of their own situations as much as possible, be fully aware of all costs and expenses, watch closely how this relates to what they charge or should accept for taking a load, and don’t contribute to the problem by taking loads that don’t cover costs.”

OOIDA suggests that truckers who work through brokers make sure that they are negotiating fair compensation for their services. They should also make sure that if a fuel surcharge is being collected, it is being passed on to them 100 percent.

Truckers are also urged to: run compliant; log unloading/loading time; set their rates to meet their costs; and leave freight that doesn’t pay enough at the dock.

– By Coral Beach, staff editor