The American Trucking Associations has accomplished a lot in making its members' voices heard, but more is needed, said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear at the association’s Management Council and Exhibition in Nashville Oct. 25.
In his annual State of the Industry and Association Address, Spear praised the trucking industry’s performance during the pandemic and briefly attacked the Biden administration’s order to require businesses with more than 100 employees to either make sure employees are vaccinated against or tested weekly for COVID-19.
“The truth is, trucking has kept America safe,” he said. “Elected officials would be wise to keep that in mind. If the intent of the administration’s COVID vaccine mandate is to protect all Americans, why pick winners and losers? Stop weaponizing public health by dividing our workforce.”
He cited that as one example of what the association is up against. Others included "trial lawyers, big union bosses, and environmental extremists." The association has been taking steps in those areas, through lobbying efforts that have resulted in wins in several states and in Washington, D.C., and launching an effort to train trucking defense attorneys how to fight overly aggressive plaintiff’s attorneys.
As an example of a win of ATA’s voice being heard, Spear touted the infrastructure bill that finally looks like it may pass.
“Despite the odds, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is an example of what’s possible when we tell our story. In this case, we told it many times, to countless people and for a mighty long time. In the House and Senate, ATA testified 24 times over the last five years – pretty sure that’s a record – and held countless Calls on Washington on Capitol Hill, where our members walked the halls, knocked on doors and made an ask. Talk about your voice being heard.”
Spear pointed out that the bill will deliver a 38% increase in funding for roads and bridges over the next five years – that’s $477 billion in new funding, including $347.5 billion for highways and $37 billion for decaying bridges.
“This is historic – the largest infusion of federal funding into our nation’s bridge network since the creation of the Interstate Highway System," he said. "And it gives states the certainty and ability to plan, not just patch, building new projects over the course of several years that address our nation’s top freight bottlenecks.”
The bill also includes an ATA initiative in the Drive Safe Act, which would train younger talent how to safely and responsibly operate a Class 8 across state lines. It establishes a Women in Trucking Advisory Board at the FMCSA, and it funds a DOT advertisement campaign to promote the trucking profession.
“The bill is good, but what’s not in this bill is even better,” Spear said. “While the radical left pushed hard for them,” he said, lobbying efforts kept out provisions ATA believes would have been negative for trucking, such as the labor-backed PRO Act, provisions that would have made it harder to use independent contractors, a rollback of ATA’s victory of federal hours of service regulations pre-empting California meal and rest breaks, a rollback of recent changes to make hours-of-service rules more flexible, “and the return of the old, flawed CSA program.”
“And it wasn’t just the left,” Spear said, noting that conservative Senate Republicans tried to fund the bill with a truck-only tax and broadening state tolling.
Turn up the Volume
“I didn’t take this job to make friends,” Spear said. “I took this job to make a difference. At ATA, value has been established. Now it’s time for growth. And we’re tasked with doing it in the most extreme and uncertain circumstances. That’s why unity matters. We’re [tellers] of truth and when necessary, instruments of defiance.
“Your voice has been heard. Now it’s time to turn up the volume,” Spear said.
“Let me be clear. ATA is not, nor ever will be, the association of no. We’re not complacent obstructionists. When confronting an issue and opinion different from our own, we double down on efforts to improve that outcome.
“Our battles aren’t fought nor won from the sidelines. And if your voice is going to continue to be heard, we’ve got to come together and get loud. Do that, and we’re the rock that breaks the wave.”