As the American Trucking Associations annual Management Conference and Exhibition started winding down on Tuesday afternoon in Orlando, Fla., after a hot-and-humid four days, one announcement made near the end following many other press conferences made me wonder if hell was about to freeze over and was I going to have to ice skate back home rather than going to the airport.
It was the launch of Trucking Moves America Forward, described as a “fundraising effort for an industrywide movement centered on a positive image and a more robust connection with policymakers and the general public.”
In other words, trucking is embarking on yet another image campaign. This one is spearheaded by the Allied Committee for Transportation, known as ACT 1. The goal is to raise a million bucks each year, starting at the Mid-America Trucking Show in 2014, for the next five years, for “an industry-wide movement centered on a positive image and a more robust connection with policymakers and the general public.”
I suppressed a yawn at the thought of yet another image campaign.
It’s not that I am not against trucking having a better image with the public (although I wonder in this day when word of something negative can travel around the world on the Internet in the blink of an eye, is there anyone who actually has a positive image?) But what was said next woke me up.
Outgoing ATA Chairman Mike Card, who is going to be the fundraising chair, said he hoped this effort wasn't just going to include the usual cast of characters such as ATA, the Truckload Carriers Association, along with a litany of industry product and service providers. He said he hoped it would include the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Teamsters Union.
Did I just hear right?
The conventional wisdom is that trucking management, such as ATA, and driver groups and organized labor can never agree on anything. Just listen to testimony on Capitol Hill from their representatives or read their press releases, which are sometimes loaded with cheap rhetoric.
But the fact is there are those rare occasions when they do agree -- and that is the foundation for what this industry needs if it wants to look less like a bunch of arguing boobs like our current Congress.
For instance, the recent (and surprisingly quick and bipartisan) passage by Congress and the signing into law by President Obama of legislation prohibiting the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from issuing guidance on the subject of truckers and sleep apnea was supported nearly unanimously by the many groups in trucking, including ATA, OOIDA and the Teamsters.
While OOIDA and the Teamsters have reportedly been solicited to participate in this campaign, there is no guarantee they will agree. If that happens, it would be disappointing, and not just because they would be left out of a campaign that represents a key component of trucking.
Getting trucking management together with two groups representing drivers might also bring a bit of a sanity when it comes to toning down knee-jerk reactions many of these groups have been guilty of over the years. Cross-border trucking, the alleged "misclassification" of truck drivers at the ports, or mandatory electronic logs come to mind.
Sitting the different sides together for an image campaign could provide the opportunity for representatives of these different groups to get to know more about one another, rather than just reading what their “opponents” are saying in news stories and through their press releases.
Imagine a meeting between the leaders of ATA, OOIDA and Teamsters. I don’t recall it ever happening in the two-plus decades I have been covering trucking. If it were to happen, I seriously doubt it would rip apart the time-space continuum as we know it.
Such a meeting might result in not only talk about image, but also some serious and thoughtful discussion of the other issues in trucking that affect everyone in the business.
That might just lead to…dare I say the word…compromise! I am sure there are some naysayers who will say there are some issues in trucking where there is no room for compromise. To that, I say, can’t you at least listen to a side other than your own?
Such a united presentation by trucking could help portray a better image of the industry to the outside world, including policymakers, not to mention the general public, which is the goal of this campaign – with the added benefit of having the trucking industry sound more intelligent and less fractured than it has in the past.
That's something I wouldn’t mind ice-skating home to.