ATA president and CEO Chris Spear. Photo: Evan Lockridge

ATA president and CEO Chris Spear. Photo: Evan Lockridge

ORLANDO [CORRECTED] – Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, delivered a wide-ranging state of the industry address at its annual Management Conference & Exhibition Monday, promoting everything from proposed tax reforms to a pending mandate for electronic logging devices, and Trump’s commitment to raise more than $1 trillion for infrastructure.

In the past year, the group has met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and all 10 House and Senate Committee leaders and ranking members. But a clear highlight, demonstrated through pictures around the convention hall, was an appearance at the White House with 12 America’s Road Team captains.

“ATA is now fully engaged in reforming our country’s decaying tax laws,” he added, referring to the association hosting a recent meeting with Trump in Pennsylvania. Citing trucks as “the barometer for the nation’s economy," Trump at that meeting introduced a proposal for a 20% cut in corporate tax rates and eliminating estate taxes.

“With the president now championing our best interests, the entire nation is paying attention to what we have to say,” Spear said.

Meanwhile, ATA is supporting a coalition led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to advance trade policy – including that which governs truck freight between Canada and the U.S. “Trucks move 76% of the NAFTA surface freight, 82% of the cross-border traffic with Mexico, and 71% with Canada: our nation’s largest trade partner. I’ve visited our borders and can tell you first hand that our industry will be the first to feel any changes in NAFTA, good or bad,” he said.

The ATA issued a joint statement with The Canadian Trucking Alliance and Mexico's Cámara Nacional del Autotransporte de Carga supporting NAFTA and the efforts of the three nations to improve the pact for all counties involved.

“The trucking industries in Canada, Mexico, and the United States have all benefited significantly from NAFTA and we, the national trucking associations from all three countries, urge negotiators to update the trade agreement in a manner that continues to benefit trade,” the statement reads in part. “We strongly encourage our governments to update NAFTA to keep North America competitive internationally. In this endeavor, making border crossings and rules governing international commercial transportation more efficient is a crucial element that will only help our industries make North America stronger.”

The ATA urged all NAFTA members to keep the benefits to the economy and the trucking industry in mind while it renegotiates the deal.

“Trucking and trade are synonymous,” said Spear. “In the more than two decades since NAFTA was enacted, we have seen strong growth in trade – the majority of which is moved by truck – between the United States, Mexico and Canada. It is vital to the health of our industry and our economy that we maintain and strengthen these relationships.”

Throughout the strongly worded address, Spear committed the ATA to fighting “anti-truck and amateur-hour advocacy groups," and credited the group with helping to strike down “ill-conceived, special interest-driven hours of service rules from the U.S. Code.”

“ATA and its coalition partners are looking to continue this winning streak by sending a strong message to policymakers in Sacramento … this is not the United States of California,” he said, challenging what’s known as FA4, the state’s meal and rest breaks that collide with federal standards.

“This confusion has generated a litigious frenzy. Over $250 million in settlements to date and immeasurable exposure in pending and potential litigation. Apparently California’s lawmakers care more about the plaintiffs’ bar than public safety, or even jobs,” Spear said. “This an issue we have to win, and we will. It’ll happen by working with Congress and this administration, continuing to invest over $9.5 billion each year in safety technologies, and giving a voice to the 7.4 million employees in trucking jobs throughout the nation.”

Spear gave the ATA credit for convincing the House of Representatives to defeat efforts to delay the rollout of the ELD mandate that goes into effect in December. “This issue has been legislated, promulgated, and litigated. And it is now time to move forward,” he said.

On a morning when the American Transportation Research Institute identified the driver shortage as the industry’s top priority, drawing on an annual survey, Spear noted that today’s shortage of 50,000 drivers is expected to double in just five years. Almost 1 million drivers and technicians will be needed in the next decade just to meet economic demands.

“Our industry faces several barriers that must be addressed if we’re going to grow, including: establishing pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship training programs, and hiring and training 18-21 year olds. We need interstate recognition of credentials, entry-level training standards for veterans and non-veteran employees, solutions for the impact of detention time, and congestion on drivers’ Hours of Service and more,” he said.

Spear pulled no punches in an attack against groups that oppose ATA work.

“Back in Washington, anti-truck and amateur-hour advocacy groups believe they know what’s best for our industry. This wave of special interests has built a cottage industry fueled by ideology, emotion, and misguided narratives – all intended to divide our industry and this association,” he said. “Obstruction is their weapon of choice. From bad bills to frivolous lawsuits, trolling social media and issuing personal attacks. Theirs is an agenda purely based on the notion that if it feels good, do it – and if it fails, blame someone else.”

“Agendas rooted in ideological divisions are nothing more than self-fulfilling prophecies,” he said.

And he called on industry representatives to joint forces in the fight.

“Our industry, our 84-year-old association, is at its best when we’re working together,” he said.

Said the lyrics in a song after his speech: Together we stand, divided we fall.

Corrected 10/25/2017 to reflect $1 trillion in infrastructure, not $1 million. We apologize for the error.

John G. Smith is the editor of the award-winning Canadian publication Today's Trucking. This article was used under a cooperative editorial sharing agreement between HDT and its Canadian counterpart.