Speak up or be pushed around
OOIDA Treasurer Leo Wilkins believes commonsense lawmaking requires input and advocacy from members and representatives of small-business trucking.
Leo Wilkins doesn’t mince words when he speaks about current regulations in the trucking industry.
“Trucking has changed since I started nearly 50 years ago,” he said. “Most of it has been good, but lately it’s been for the worse.”
Uncle Sam called upon Wilkins in 1965. He served two years as an 88 Mike (motor transport operator/truck driver) in the Army, but Leo had intended to make trucking his living before he was drafted.
“From about the time I was old enough to drive, I guess I had a knack for it, ya’ know,” he said. “I learned to drive big trucks in the military, but I still had to get a chauffeur’s license when I got out of the Army.”
Nearly two decades as a company driver gave Leo a well-rounded scope of experience when it comes to how drivers are treated in the industry. He began his civilian trucking career in 1968 as a driver/helper hauling furniture.
Leo took the leap to independent owner-operator in 1983. He said he realized early on that “independent owner-operators are at the mercy of every small-town cop, city council and scale master we encounter. The shippers and receivers don’t answer to anyone. They can legally hinder our ability to earn money without repercussion. We have to speak up or accept being pushed around.”
This board member is probably most well-known for providing ride-along experiences to former FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro in November 2013 and more recently, Acting Administrator Scott Darling in April 2016.
Again, Leo’s very direct way of speaking leaves no question of his thoughts on the two previous administrators. “They were both very pleasant, nice people, but I got the feeling they just wanted to get out of the office for a few days. I don’t think either of them understood much about trucking.”
Newly appointed FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez seems to impress Wilkins a little more.
“I’ve spoken to him several times since he started the job,” Leo said. “He seems to care about the driver, but I’m going to reserve judgment for what he actually does instead of what he says he’s going to do.”
When did you get your commercial driver’s license?
“I got my chauffeur’s license in 1968. My first civilian job was as a driver/helper moving furniture. My first solo driving job was hauling U.S. mail as a company driver.
What kind of freight do you specialize in?
“I’ve been hauling medium-duty trucks lately. I’m running a step-deck. I haul some general freight now and then.”
Why did you join OOIDA?
“I had insurance with them in the early 1980s, when I became an owner-operator. I was a member, but I didn’t become really active until I met Jim Johnston in 1986. I stopped into the office on a trip when I happened to be going through Grain Valley. I met Jim, and he encouraged me to get more involved. I knew advocacy was important for small-business trucking, and we had no one else looking out for us. I’ve been actively involved with the Association ever since. I’m proud to serve the more than 160,000 members. It’s been an honor to do so as a board member for 19 years.”
If you could make one significant change in the industry with a snap of your fingers, what would it be?
“Without hesitation, get rid of the ELD mandate and get some commonsense in Washington. We need people who have trucking experience making laws for truck drivers.”
What legacy do you hope to leave?
“You’ve got to have people help you speak out sometimes, to get the single advocate together with professional associations. It’s up to each of us to stand up, and speak up, and I’m proud to do so with OOIDA.” LL