‘United in a common effort’

OOIDA board grapples with tumultuous year, prepares for what lies ahead in 2021.

December 2020/January 2021

Jami Jones

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The year of 2020 will forever be known for many things – a global pandemic, economic uncertainty and one of the most contentious elections ever, among other things. And all of that, in one form or another, has had an effect not only in life but in trucking

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association fall Board of Directors meeting took place virtually via Zoom in mid-November.

OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer opened the meeting, less than two weeks after the general election, with a call for unity.

“The election was certainly one of the most contentious we’ve had,” he said. “The people who voted have one thing in common – they feel like government doesn’t work for ‘me.’ We deal with this issue around here all the time. Our team in D.C. deals with it all the time.

“As much as America is certainly divided, we don’t want that to happen to us as truckers. We need to be united in a common effort. The only way we prosper is to stick together and further the interest of those folks we represent – the little guys in trucking.

“We work best when we work together.”

COVID-19 has an upside?

Spencer also addressed the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the trucking industry and advocacy efforts.

“Realistically it looks like we’re going to be living with this for a long time,” he said. “Going forward, the disease is spreading and won’t be contained any time soon. We’re optimistic about the vaccine … but it will likely be a year or longer before we start stemming it in the right direction.”

With recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control to work remotely and limit travel, business operations have changed – including OOIDA’s advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C.

“Meeting with lawmakers has changed,” Spencer told the board. “When you used to meet in a room, it was hard to tell how engaged they were in the meeting or on the topic at hand. Now, with virtual meetings, they have no choice but to pay attention and hear what you are saying.

“Blessings are everywhere,” he said.

Trucking economic outlook not so bad

“We are in the longest economic expansion that’s ever happened in our country. And usually something will come along and blow that up,” Spencer said. “The COVID shutdown had an effect, however, in some aspects the economy improved with the government pumping money into the system.”

Spencer acknowledged the rate collapse in the early days of COVID-19 shutdowns but said that had recovered and even improved in some sectors.

“Every analyst that follows trucking is reporting great demand for trucking services, lots of pressure to increase rates so shippers can lock in a supply of trucks,” Spencer said.

“The economy for trucking looks pretty rosy.”

Post-election playbook

OOIDA’s Government Affairs team began their presentation with an assessment of this year’s presidential, Senate and House elections, discussing how the political landscape will change in 2021 and what that means for the Association’s legislative and regulatory priorities.

Since Election Day, the team has been preparing for a change in leadership at the White House – expecting Joe Biden to ultimately be announced the winner of this year’s hotly contested presidential race. Recently, Biden named over a dozen prominent transportation experts to his U.S. Department of Transportation transition team. While there doesn’t appear to be much experience in the trucking industry among the panel’s members, OOIDA is exploring ways to possibly connect with various participants for discussions. The Government Affairs team believes Eric Garcetti, the current mayor of Los Angeles, remains the frontrunner for DOT secretary. It is unclear who may be nominated to lead the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, but OOIDA will continue to push for an official with driving experience.

The Government Affairs team indicated the most immediate concerns with a Biden administration coming to power is the possible relaunching of rulemakings on insurance increases and speed limiters, plus possibly more aggressive environmental policies that impact trucking. However, they believe there will be new opportunities to work with the White House on issues like truck parking, autonomous vehicle oversight, driver training and maybe even detention time.

While control of the Senate still hung in the balance due to two outstanding races in Georgia, OOIDA’s team in Washington said it believes Republicans will maintain their majority.

“We breathed a little sigh of relief when it became obvious Republicans were winning seats in Montana, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina,” said Collin Long, director of OOIDA’s Government Affairs Office.

“Keeping the Senate red will help us block several bad proposals that may pass the House, including an increase to minimum insurance requirements, which remains our top concern.”

What actually will be happening in the House come 2021 is the biggest question in Long’s mind. Prior to Election Day, Democrats anticipated winning additional seats and expanding their majority in the lower chamber. Instead, Republicans gained several seats, which will result in one of the most closely divided Houses in decades. Long says the surprising losses and slim majority give House Democrats three options on how to move forward next year.

“They either maintain the status quo of partisan gridlock with the Senate, double down and push an even more aggressive liberal agenda, or try to work with Republicans to pass bipartisan legislation to prove to the American people they can deliver meaningful results prior to the mid-term elections in 2022,” he said.

Regardless of which option Democrat leaders embrace, truckers should be pleased to know it will be much harder for the House to advance several controversial policies affecting them in the New Year, including a highly contentious increase in insurance, a speed limiter mandate, a side underride guard mandate and more.

What could possibly get done in a closely divided capitol? Long says truck parking.

“We’ve demonstrated truck parking is not a partisan issue with the support we’ve generated for H.R. 6104,” Long explained. “If the House, Senate and White House decide to work together to pass a highway bill in the next several months, we believe bipartisan support for federal investment in truck parking will help us deliver a major victory for truckers.”

OOIDA Director of Federal Affairs Jay Grimes summarized the Association’s recent regulatory activities. Most notably, he reported that hours-of-service final rulemaking took effect as scheduled in late September. “While we know the rule is not perfect and more HOS changes are needed, these reforms do provide drivers with some additional flexibility. We initiated the HOS rulemaking process in 2018, and we were pleased that the final rule made it across the finish line,” Grimes said.

Looking ahead, OOIDA is optimistic about the recently proposed split-duty provision pilot program that would permit drivers to use a daily off-duty pause.

Broker transparency has also been a hot topic this year. Back in May, OOIDA submitted a petition to improve transparency regulations. The goal of the petition was to ensure motor carriers could more easily access transaction information from brokers that is required by 49 CFR 371.3. Since then, FMCSA requested public feedback on the petition and held a virtual listening session discussing broker regulations that OOIDA participated in. The agency is now in the process of reviewing the 1,200-plus comments that were filed to the transparency docket, mostly from individual drivers and motor carriers.

Grimes provided other updates on hair testing guidelines, FMCSA’s under-21 pilot programs, and autonomous vehicles. He mentioned that a new administration might be more willing to implement more safety oversight over companies that are testing these unproven technologies. Addressing problems with excessive detention time is another area where a different administration could be helpful for truckers. Conversely, Grimes and the rest of the OOIDA Governments Affairs staff will be opposing any new efforts that would advance a speed limiter mandate. LL

Read a recap of the Spring 2020 OOIDA Board of Directors meeting here.

Prepass
Jami Jones

Jami Jones has been in journalism since 1991 – focused on the trucking industry since 2000. Whether judging Shell SuperRigs or writing hard-hitting analyses, she covers trucking from lug nuts to legislation – always with the trucker in mind.