A controversial restructuring plan at the trucking industry’s largest trade association got a boost this week as leaders from the truckload segment decided to recommend a “yes” vote. Just how much of a boost it was is not yet clear.

The officers of the Truckload Carriers Assn. told the American Trucking Assns. that they would urge their board and members to vote in favor of integrating TCA into ATA, assuming details concerning TCA’s role can be worked out. The vote will take place by mail ballot and in person at TCA’s annual meeting in Orlando, FL, March 22.
Walter McCormick, president and CEO of ATA, took the decision as “big news, exciting news, very positive news.”
“It means that the TCA officers . . . share the vision of the ATA board that what the trucking industry needs in the 21st Century is one trade association focused on advocacy that speaks with a unified, powerful voice.”
The chairman of TCA, Gary Baumhover, senior vice president of business development at Grojean Transportation, Dubuque, IA, offered a note of caution.
He said the recommendation is significant, but member support does not necessarily follow. “The vote can’t be taken for granted. Truckload carriers don’t push worth a darn.”
TCA is one of a dozen ATA conferences that are deciding if they will go along with the new ATA. The restructuring plan, which redefines ATA’s role and places new and sometimes more expensive requirements on its members, is forcing the conferences to examine their own roles.
The examination is producing mixed results so far. Some conferences already have decided that they do not fit in the new organization, others have made the commitment to join. Most still don’t know what to do.
The deadline for full affiliation with ATA is the end of this year, but ATA Chairman Lee Shaffer, president and CEO of Kenan Transport Co., Chapel Hill, NC, had asked the conferences to signal their intentions by the end of December 1999.
So far, two conferences – the American Moving and Storage Assn. and the Towing and Recovery Assn. of America – have told Shaffer they will not join ATA. Both groups explained that their core business interests are different from ATA’s, and said they would cooperate with ATA when their interests coincide.
Two other conferences – the Distribution & LTL Carriers Assn. and the Agricultural Transporters Conference – are committed to ATA. The Intermodal Conference is supposed to make its decision by the end of this week.
The rest of the conferences could not meet Shaffer’s deadline because their boards were still deliberating or had not yet convened.
Here’s where they stand right now:
* The National Tank Truck Carriers will discuss ATA integration at its board meeting in February. A conference spokesman declined to speculate about the outcome. Two-thirds of NTTC members are not members of ATA and may be reluctant to join. On the other hand, ATA Chairman Shaffer is a tank trucker and an NTTC member.
* The National Automobile Transporters Assn. will take up the issue at a meeting in March. The conference is not likely to vote for affiliation, indicated a source who did not want to be identified.
* The Specialized Carriers & Rigging Assn., which opposed the ATA plan when it was introduced in August 1998, is waiting for ATA to resume negotiations, a spokesman said.
* The Truck Renting and Leasing Assn., not a conference but an affiliated national independent organization, will not integrate with ATA, although it does want to stay affiliated, ATA Chairman Shaffer reported this week.
* The Air & Expedited Motor Carriers Conference will discuss integration at its annual meeting in March, a spokesman said. Of the conference’s 90 members, 20 are members of ATA.
* A Munitions Carriers Conference spokesman said the group is in transition, possibly moving toward integration with a new Government Carriers Conference that ATA is creating.
However these groups decide, it is clear that ATA will emerge with fewer conferences. Some in the industry see this as an ironic turn of events in light of the association’s goal: to create a structure that broadens the association’s constituency and fosters unification among industry interests.
McCormick, who is in charge of implementing the plan, sees it differently. He said the self-examination forced by the ATA plan is healthy and will result in a more focused and efficient trade association.
ATA sees itself as a provider of political and regulatory advocacy to for-hire carriers, McCormick said. Truckers who seek representation on broad issues such as hours of service rules, highway funding, taxes and environmental regulation can join ATA. For representation and services support on issues that are unique to their business, truckers can join the conferences that have opted to go their own way.
Baumhover of TCA said he expects the conference to lose members if the group votes to integrate with ATA. Right now more than half of TCA members are not members of ATA, and many of them may not be willing to join. “We wish that would not happen but that’s reality,” he said. “It’s a big challenge.”
A senior ATA official who did not want to be identified downplayed the concern. When the time comes, TCA members will join up, he predicted.