American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear said trucking’s heroic response and service during the COVID-19 pandemic has earned the industry “tremendous goodwill” in the country and the ability to tell its story “at an amplified volume.”
Spear also praised the current infrastructure bill pending in Congress, calling it, “a very good piece of legislation,” and expressing his belief that it would be signed into law very soon.
Speaking at ATA’s Technology and Maintenance Council Fall Meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Town Hall/Fleet Operator’s Meeting opening the convention Sept. 13.
Spear began by thanking TMC attendees and the trucking industry at large for its work since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, saying that he was “very inspired by the commitment and service the entire country witnessed as trucking kept the country moving and working at the height of the lockdown.
“Coming out of COVID, we as an industry and ATA as a council have been able to navigate tremendous headwinds,” Spear said. “There is no playbook for dealing with a global pandemic. And truckers don’t have the luxury of telecommuting to work. But trucking rose to the challenge, despite our drivers having no idea what kind of impact COVID would have on them or their families.”
Spear said he was also proud of the way ATA rose to the challenge when state governors began shutting down critical services trucking relies on to move freight.
“Rest areas were being shut down,” Spear said. “And that wasn’t all; obtaining medical certificates and other barriers to our ability to operate were being thrown up. But ATA rose to the challenge and explained to these states why their decisions were hampering our efforts and getting them to change those policies.”
Spear said the country as a whole took note of trucking’s role in keeping the economy moving. “This industry is now recognized at a level we never thought possible,” he said. “It feels good to get a pat on the back. But more than that, with changes in the White House and Senate, as well as new personnel in new government agencies and an all-new agenda, it gives us the ability to tell our story at an amplified level.”
'Overbearing' Vaccine Mandate
Spear said that while ATA has been pro-vaccinations since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, he said the Biden administration’s new mandate requiring private companies with more than 100 employees to require vaccinations for all workers would hurt trucking’s ability to continue to serve the country.
“I’ve been pro-vaccinations from the moment they became available,” Spear said. “We mandated vaccinations at ATA back in May because I felt I had a responsibility to secure a safe workspace for our employees. But companies are different, and a one-size-fits-all approach in this instance is an overbearing mandate for industry that is already facing chronic shortages of technicians, dock workers and drivers. This mandate could keep carriers from meeting shippers’ expectations, and some lawmakers in Washington don’t understand that.”
Noting that his past experience in government has taught him how slow it often moves, Spear added that it was his hope that by the time the vaccine mandate was implemented, the COVID-19 crisis will have waned and will effectively make it a non-issue for fleets.
'Our Shop Floor'
Spear also called out another issue that has been on the front burner for ATA for some time, the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill now working its way through Congress.
Noting that ATA has testified in front of both the House and Senate on the need for an infrastructure bill 24 times over the past five years, Spear said the association had played a major role in framing the debate and shaping the tenor of the new bill.
Spear admitted to having some issues with government spending over the past six months and the impact it may have on future generations.
“That said, roads and bridges are trucking’s shop floor,” he said. “That’s where we work. And if we do not have good infrastructure, not only does trucking suffer, but so does the entire country. Good roads and bridges are good for consumers, good for the economy and good for trucking. We all pay less for the things we love when they are delivered on time. And there are definite environmental benefits for having good infrastructure as well.”
Turing to the current “toxic” political climate in the country, Spear noted that while President Trump actively praised the trucking industry, he ultimately failed to deliver on the infrastructure front.
“Trump had four years and never moved or dropped an infrastructure bill,” Spear said. “He had his chance and it was all talk. They had their chance. And now, the Democrats come along and we’re getting action with a $1.2 trillion bill. That’s half of what Trump talked about. But if you look at it, there are some good things in it.”
Among those “good things,” Spear pointed to the Drive Safe Act baked into the bill, which will allow the industry to tap into younger drivers with a pilot program for under-21 drivers to operate Class 8 vehicles across state lines.
Just as important, Spear said, were many things ATA worked to keep out of the bill, including Pro Act union provisions, which he said would have “erased” right to work laws in states, a measure to reclassify private contractors as employees, a reordering of meal and rest breaks for drivers, as well as truck tolls and “draconian” safety regulations.
“In my opinion,” Spear concluded, “when you look at this bill from a panoramic perspective from both sides, it is a very good bill. It’s not perfect. No bill ever is. But even though it just happens to be going through congress in a very toxic political environment, it is a very good piece of legislation that I believe we be signed into law very soon. It is a Tier One victory for trucking that will allow us to keep on doing what we do. And because of that, I believe our future is bright, in spite of all the toxicity we face today.”