If you’re not represented, you’ll likely be misrepresented

Todd Spencer

From day one, the goal of the association has been to provide truckers with the quality of representation needed to make sure their views are considered on all important issues in trucking.

It was a big task then, and it is a big task now. When the founding members of OOIDA first headed to Washington, DC, in 1973, they discovered lawmakers knew very little about the real trucking industry. They had no idea what an owner-operator was, nor did they have any comprehension of the unique and sometimes outrageous situations that professional drivers encounter on a regular basis.

To make matters even more frustrating, lawmakers had no idea how to go about resolving the problems of real truckers. For most lawmakers, this was their first experience with real people who actually drove trucks 100,000 miles or more every year. Prior to this, most lawmakers assumed truckers were either large companies represented by large carrier organizations or employee drivers represented by unions. They didn’t know any better simply because they seldom heard from a constituent who actually drove a truck for a living.

The founding members of OOIDA knew the problem areas of trucking from firsthand experience, but knew almost nothing about where to go for legislative or regulatory remedies.

The next few years were a learning experience for both truckers and for government. There were positive changes because of the direct involvement of truckers in the process, but even more so because of the personal sacrifices many truckers willingly made to make sure the issues of professional truckers were carefully considered.

However, it took years then to resolve even small problems of truckers. The same is often true today. And what we learned then is still applicable. Persistence pays off, but you’ve got to be involved to make that happen.

Long ago, we learned the price of not being involved can be very high. If your interests are not specifically represented, then they are likely to be misrepresented to your detriment. How many times have you heard in recent years that the trucking industry wants bigger and heavier trucks or that the trucking industry wants the border open with Mexico? Wrong! A few misguided big carriers and their association may want those things, but the overwhelming majority of owners and drivers are flat opposed.

Not only does persistence pay off for truckers in legislation, the same strategy is what works in communicating with lawmakers. On any day, a member of Congress is likely to receive several hundred calls about dozens of issues. For your issue to rise to an “attention-getting” level, you and others must call a lot. As long as you are cordial in your conversation, you can’t really call too often. If your case is just and your approach to lawmakers is right, you can expect the system to work for you. It seldom works fast, but it will work if you persist and do the right things.

Some 12 years ago, OOIDA started a political action committee to allow members to make political contributions that can be pooled together with those of other truckers. The PAC creates more opportunities to acquaint elected officials with the unique challenges faced by truckers. With the cost of most elections to Congress now in the millions of dollars, having money available to help those elected officials who can help us is very important. The OOIDA PAC helps level the playing field among organizations, and it can make a big difference for truckers.

At the heart of OOIDA’s efforts to influence legislation is a growing group of activists among the membership. OOIDA believes the best representatives for truckers are real truckers. And the most effective way to have a say in legislation is to put truckers together with lawmakers’ offices. We can do that now in numerous ways, including Land Line, direct mail, e-mail, fax and by phone. The association now has the computer capability to alert members when needed in every state, in every U.S. congressional district and even in every state district when legislation is being considered that needs your input.

Direct involvement with lawmakers is the most important thing you can do to influence legislation. There really is no substitute for personal contacts directly with lawmakers when possible and with the appropriate staff person who needs to hear about trucking.

And now is the perfect time for those contacts. The next national election is quickly approaching. The campaigning for office is already in high gear. Elected officials who plan to stay in office are looking for votes, and regardless of political philosophies (or anything else), they want to satisfy constituents who vote. This is our chance to let them satisfy us for a change.

Lawmakers are now focused on two pieces of legislation that will greatly impact truckers — the transportation reauthorization bill and an energy bill. Both bills create opportunities to fix truckers’ concerns.

The leading cause of highway accidents is operator error, yet hardly any drivers are properly trained before they hit the highways. While this is a major safety issue for all, it is also an economic issue for truckers. A CDL should mean that a driver is a competent, safe professional. It doesn’t mean that today.

Improving industry productivity is important, but it won’t be done by boosting truck sizes and weights. It can be done by enacting ways to eliminate all of the lost time drivers donate every week. This wretched situation makes compliance with hours-of-service regulations almost impossible; it means too many drivers struggle with fatigue; it means the industry loses quality drivers who quickly burn out.

Trucking is the most important transportation mode, and it grows more so each day. And drivers are the most important people in trucking. They should be so recognized.

Volatile fuel prices have created economic havoc throughout trucking two of the past three winters. It could happen again this winter. While the nation clearly needs an energy policy that shields us from the whims of Arab sheiks, such a policy will take years to develop. Truckers need a mechanism to offset higher fuel costs. Lawmakers should recognize that and so should all others in this industry. When truckers can’t pay for fuel, they don’t make truck payments either.

If small-business truckers can’t financially survive volatile fuel prices, the overall economy won’t either. Lawmakers need to hear this over and over again.

OOIDA staff and attorneys will be laying out the options to lawmakers. They always listen politely, but what makes them act is hearing from folks like you.