Exit interview: Ferro talks to industry journalists about tenure in office

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 8/14/2014

Anne Ferro, departing administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, talked hours of service, detention time, driver pay, coercion, electronic logs and more in a meeting with industry and trade journalists Thursday morning.

With only days left in her time in office as FMCSA administrator, Ferro reflected with journalists about her five years in office – the longest of any administrator of the agency.

During her tenure, the administration implemented new regulations such as the hand-held cell phone ban, new hours of service and the new National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. The agency also ushered in the implementation of Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) and the Pre-employment Screening Program.

These regulations and programs, along with others, Ferro said were also designed to reduce crashes and increase safety on the highways.

Most of the refrain is familiar to truckers who watch the industry that regulates them so closely.

What may surprise drivers is the growing conversation about driver coercion, their treatment, and even how much they are paid.

A new conversation
The Department of Transportation has proposed the Grow America Act. In it, FMCSA has provisions calling for fair pay for long-distance truck and bus drivers – acknowledging that many truckers are paid by the mile and lose compensation any time they aren’t moving.

As a result, they are not paid for extended periods of time spent on-the-clock when they are detained by waiting for shipments to be loaded or unloaded at shippers’ or receivers’ facilities.

Ferro told reporters that treatment and pay of drivers is a conversation that must continue if we are to fully address highway safety.

“We need to drive home the theme, now more so than ever thanks to the Grow America Act, of driver compensation and how essential it is that professional drivers be compensated for all time on duty, recognized and respected in that regard,” Ferro said.

“Of course it’s got to be complemented by strong hours-of-service rules, by effective rules that protect drivers such as coercion.”

The Grow America Act addresses these problems by providing the agency with the authority to issue regulations that would require motor carriers to compensate drivers for detention time and other similar non-driving work periods at a rate that is at least equal to the federal minimum wage.

Ferro also spoke about the coercion rule the agency has under development. While she could not speak directly about the rule in development, Ferro said that the coercion rule is opening a door to give the agency the reach it needs to enforce on all the entities that exert control over drivers.

“The conversations I’ve had with drivers, the opportunity to do a ride-along, the listening sessions we’ve had as an organization – all have highlighted for me the pressures that drivers are under … disrespect from their own dispatch, at the shipping, the loading dock.”

She said the current system leaves safe operation up to the drivers, the public using the highways with them, and law enforcement on the roadside.

“We need to back that safety calculus into the supply chain … to those that are influencing it,” she said.

But Ferro stops short of laying all the blame at the feet of others in the industry that coerce drivers and treat them poorly.

“The coercion rule is not a silver bullet. The issue of shipper treatment of drivers can be addressed today,” she said.

There is more freight right now than there are trucks on the road, she explained. That kind of leverage allows for higher freight rates, higher driver pay, and an opportunity to invest in safe equipment.

And she said truckers shouldn’t do business with shippers and receivers that can’t get on board with that line of thinking.

“Shippers that are abusive should, frankly, be shut out,” she said. “It’s the same logic of getting the bad stuff out of the business. I applaud any trucking supply provider, whether it is an owner-operator or a 20,000-truck company, that says to a shipper ‘if you’re not going to pay detention time, if you’re not going to tighten up efficiency and respect at point of pickup or delivery, we’re not taking your contract.’”

Moving on
Ferro is leaving the agency to be president and CEO of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. She leaves having no regrets and not thinking she should have done anything differently.

She said her leaving FMCSA does not have anything to do with the call from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association for her resignation.

“These political appointments, by their very nature, are temporary,” she said.

“The opportunity to take over as president and CEO of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators is an incredible opportunity for someone who has been driven to serve the public. … Those things don’t come around very often.

“It opened up earlier this year – long before OOIDA called for my head.”

She holds no ill will against OOIDA, stating the criticism “not about me. It’s about the position. It’s about the agency’s role.”

Ferro said she looks forward to continuing to serve the public as the head of AAMVA and continuing to work toward improved highway safety through her interactions with that organization.

The interim administrator for FMCSA has not yet been named, but Ferro said she expects the transition plan to be announced internally at the agency next week.

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