OOIDA fights for truckers’ rights amid crisis

May 2020

Mark Schremmer

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As truck drivers risked their own health to ensure critical supplies were delivered to hospitals and grocery stores across the nation, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association was busy making sure government agencies did everything they could to protect truckers and lessen strict regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With letters sent to everyone from President Donald Trump to the U.S. Department of Transportation and Pennsylvania lawmakers, OOIDA earned several wins along the way. The Association also kept its members informed with daily updates regarding a rapidly changing landscape throughout most of March.

On March 20, OOIDA sent a letter to President Donald Trump, asking the federal government to assist the nation’s truck drivers by immediately addressing issues related to parking, hours-of-service requirements, enforcement, compliance and the “basic decency” of providing truckers with a place to use the restroom.

“Truckers are a vital component of the supply chain, hauling loads that help keep hospitals prepared, manufacturers productive and grocery stores stocked,” OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer wrote in the letter sent to President Trump and to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, FMCSA acting Administrator Jim Mullen, and FHWA Administrator Nicole Nason.

“Unfortunately, our members are encountering many challenges that unnecessarily slow the movement of goods, limit the effectiveness of response efforts and jeopardize their personal safety. Steps can be taken by the federal government to immediately alleviate many of these problems, and coordination with state and local governments, as well as the business community, will help address many more.”

OOIDA’s letter focused on keeping rest areas open to provide truckers with a place to park, asking hours-of-service regulations to be suspended for all freight, allowing motor carriers with satisfactory safety ratings to bypass weigh stations, granting an extension for expiring medical cards and CDLs, and providing truckers access to restrooms and coronavirus testing. OOIDA also asked for random drug and alcohol testing of drivers to be suspended during the crisis.

Many truck drivers had reported that shippers and receivers have denied them access from using on-site restroom facilities.

The reports from OOIDA led to the American Logistics Aid Network asking thousands of U.S. businesses to let truck drivers use the restroom.

“This is unconscionable, and those enforcing the policy lack public decency,” Spencer wrote. “The federal government must work with the logistics community to ensure truckers have access to restrooms.

“Some businesses are claiming to limit access as a means to control the spread of the virus to their employees. These claims are both counterproductive and insulting. As the most transient community in America, truckers must have the capacity to wash their hands after handling freight, paperwork and business equipment to help contain the spread of the virus.”

While not all of the requests were fully accepted, progress was made.

On March 24, FMCSA announced it had granted a waiver for expiring CDLs and medical cards.

A day later, FMCSA provided guidance regarding drug and alcohol testing requirements, taking into account that truck drivers might not have access to tests.

Pennsylvania rest areas

On March 16, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced that as of March 17 it would close its 30 rest areas and welcome centers to the public.

Immediately, OOIDA criticized the move and sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Chao and Pennsylvania lawmakers about the necessity of keeping rest areas open for truck drivers.

OOIDA said the closures sent the wrong message to millions of truck drivers, who were being hailed as heroes for their work during the crisis.

“We are extremely disappointed by policies like the closure of rest areas, which demonstrate a lack of understanding of truckers’ needs and a worrisome disregard for their personal safety,” Spencer wrote.

The criticism led to PennDOT announcing on March 18 that it planned to reopen 13 of its 30 rest areas. OOIDA responded by saying the action wasn’t good enough and the Association would continue to push until all of the state’s rest areas were open for truck drivers.

As of press time, Pennsylvania had reopened 28 of the 30 rest areas.

Protecting drivers

In a second letter to President Trump on April 3, OOIDA requested “urgent and immediate action” to protect truck drivers during the pandemic.

“Every day they are exposed to COVID-19 because of the critical service they provide for all of us,” Spencer wrote. “They run in and out of the hot zones and, without question, they are exposed. They don’t have access to personal protective equipment or any practical means to know when they may be falling ill or any practical solution if they need treatment or self-isolation.”

The April 3 letter was also sent to the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Health and Human Services, urging the nation to develop a plan to keep truck drivers safe.

“Access to testing must be available where they are, particularly on busy truck routes,” Spencer wrote. “And testing must show results in hours, not days. Along with that we need a strategy for treatment or quarantine that could take place at nearby motels.

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.