The Goofy Ambassadors of Trucking

November 1, 2018

John Bendel

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In a speech on Monday, ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said “our foes continue to sow the seeds of distrust and mistruths, spreading their own narrative about our industry.”

Chris spoke at the ATA Management Conference and Exhibition in Austin, Texas. He did not specify the ATA’s foes, but I think he meant OOIDA. That’s because in the same speech he announced ATA would form the Independent Contractor Ambassadors Program. “These ambassadors will represent independent truckers before key decision makers,” he said.

So ATA is going into competition with OOIDA. What does that mean?

I can tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean the ATA will go to bat for owner-operators in Washington, D.C., or anywhere else. It doesn’t mean ATA will file lawsuits against abusive carriers and governments on behalf of owner-operators. It doesn’t mean the ATA will provide meaningful services and reliable information for owner-operators.

This new outfit will be the ATA with an alias. The policies it fights for will be ATA policies. Its public leaders will be figureheads.

There’s no reason to denigrate any owner-operator who becomes an ATA “ambassador.” That will be his or her individual decision. The ATA will promote the few who do join up as representing the broad owner-operator community. In fact, they will be representing ATA.

The ATA’s make-believe owner-operator association will be a public relations and lobbying operation. It will be a handful of human owner-operators and a legion of cardboard figures designed to make the group look bigger than it is.

In an owner-operator costume, ATA will use all the tools of the public relations trade. We will see op-eds supposedly by members of the make-believe association. We’ll see letters-to-the-editor signed by members, community leaders, and just plain folks. You’ll see “ambassadors” interviewed on television.

They will all talk about freedom and the entrepreneurial spirit –stirring stuff. But the policies they endorse will be the freedom of owner-operators to be short-changed and exploited by the big carriers of the ATA.

PR people will write those op-eds and letters. The letters will be shopped around for legitimate signatures, probably among the friends and families of the PR folks themselves. The “ambassadors” we see on TV will be vetted, deemed trustworthy, then carefully coached and rehearsed by PR media pros. Standard PR practices all.

ATA won’t do a halfway job. It will be a slick operation, skillfully run. Even so, it will brush by the public consciousness, then quickly vanish.

Which brings us back to Chris’s ATA foes – us, I’m guessing. His term “distrust” doesn’t bother me. Trust, like love, is ineffable, impossible to describe but like love can come and go and return again.

“Mistruths” is different. Truth is absolute. It doesn’t change. But it can be incomplete.

This week, Chris’s truth is seen from the fine restaurants of Austin, the hospitality suites at Austin’s best hotels, and the Fazio Canyons Golf Course at the high-end Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa.

OOIDA’s truth comes from the interstates, truck stops, shipper docks, rest areas, scales, drop lots, sleeper berths, and driver seats of the 100 percent genuine, on-the-ground, 24-7 world of trucking. We will continue to voice that narrative.

If I could speak with Chris, I would say we’re all in the same trucking industry. Many of our members have working relationships with many of yours. Let’s just calm down and duke out our differences in civil debate and in the halls of government.

And this goofy ambassador thing?

Please don’t make us launch OOIDA’s own Mega-Carrier Association of America. Our dues would be lots cheaper than yours.

John Bendel

John Bendel is Land Line’s contributing editor-at-large. A former trucker, former editor at National Lampoon, and longtime truck writer, John is an author, photographer, and freelancer for New York Times. There’s more, but in short, his insight and matchless style of writing makes “Gizmos and Gears” a runaway reader favorite.

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