By Joe Rajkovacz
Regulatory Affairs Specialist, OOIDA
For the past couple of years, the plight of owner-operators who dray containers from the nation’s ports has been a battleground pitting the interests of port authorities, motor carriers, retailers, organized labor, politicians, social activists, environmentalist – including state agencies and even one state Attorney General at each other’s throat.
This has happened under the guise of “cleaning the environment” and the supposed reasons why owner-operators who serve the ports don’t have the financial ability to afford a newer, cleaner emissions truck themselves.
All these parties basically fall into one of two camps: Some want everyone to be a company driver while others want to maintain the status quo of using owner-operators, albeit with tons of your money to support their business model.
So the choices are company drivers and eventual unionization, or dumping wads of subsidies at motor carriers – that is welfare trucking.
There have been more plots, twists and turns, political intrigue, you name it, to all of this than any Robert Ludlum novel. I’ve witnessed public hearings, driver rallies, political maneuvering, and court challenges just to name a few of the “yard markers” in this sordid tale.
The latest chapter has an alliance of ports, labor, and enviros running off to Congress in an attempt to have local drayage markets re-regulated by amending the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act.
If they succeed, it’s a good chance owner-operators plying the ports would end.
So how did we get in this fine mess? Well, look no further than the self-anointed protectors of owner-operators and many of the motor carrier members they represent – the ATA.
They portray themselves as the avant garde of “free market forces” and champions of laissez faire business. In their arrogance, they have disassociated themselves from the marketplace dysfunctions they created by not adhering to certain federal regulations and engaging in wholesale shoddy business practices to the detriment of owner-operators.
Nature abhors a vacuum and the void created by unscrupulous motor carrier practices is being filled by others who themselves are not fans of owner-operators.
Maybe it’s just me, but has the whole trucking industry lost their collective minds? I’m beginning to think so as I observe the obscenity of the ATA wrapping itself as the self-anointed protector of owner-operator status and continuing to use their services to dray containers out of the nation’s ports.
This is the same organization that derives most of its revenue from the biggest of the big in transportation. How sweet that they’re concerned about the little guy, huh?
News flash to the suit and tie crowd who’ve spent as little time actually in a truck as I’ve spent eating quiche and sipping vintage wine – not. Only an owner-operator who smoked copious quantities of bird dung could possibly buy your bilge that you care about improving their lives and economic standing.
In port trucking, even minimal adherence to Part 376 of the FMCSRs is a joke.
Illegal charge-backs to owner-operators for items such as the motor carriers primary liability insurance is commonplace. Completely bogus truck lease-purchase agreements create sham owner-operators who have zero chance of success which in-turn leads to improper classification of employment status as a dodge around work-place protections enjoyed by most Americans.
In short, most of this segment of the trucking industry through outright greed and illegal behavior has created its own cesspool of an ever downward economic spiral for owner-operators.
To all that, add the inefficient practices of ports that cause drivers to waste untold hours, uncompensated, attempting to make a single turn and you start to get the real picture of what’s wrong with port drayage.
The same self-anointed protectors of owner-operators also state they actually support “cleaning up the environment” with the purchase of newer, clean emissions trucks. Nice guys, eh?
Except they’re responsible for the debased economics of port drayage and are now getting us all to pay them BILLIONS in many various public subsidies to underwrite their business model to purchase those newer trucks or retrofit existing ones.
They want a handout, not the marketplace at work and that’s welfare trucking.
The business model used in port drayage is broke. Re-regulating is not the answer because it misses a much easier and less costly fix.
We simply need FMCSA to proactively enforce ALL regulations on the books, not those it has improperly and through political manipulations refused to enforce because the agency won’t acknowledge cause and effect between what they deem “economic” regulations and over-all highway safety.
The IRS needs to get serious about enforcing its own 20-point test regarding independent contractor status and Congress should eliminate the exemption for truckers from the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Marketplaces work when everyone must follow the same rules and they are enforced. You’d think that’d be an obvious lesson from our current economic meltdown.
Owner-operators deliver the best and safest service in the industry and need to be treated fairly and equitably – by motor carriers and port authorities.
Only then can they afford to purchase newer, cleaner emissions trucks on their own dime without government hand-outs or motor carriers yoking them through “the company store mentality”.
I guess I’ve been smoking something ‘cause that’s how I always thought a marketplace should work – my bad.