TCA is currently an independent association affiliated as an ATA conference. Since 1998, ATA has been moving to have all conferences integrate by requiring membership in ATA and an affiliated state trucking association as a prerequisite for being a member of the conference, as part of the Wren plan to restructure ATA.
The plan was implemented in response to years of declining membership and deficits at ATA. The Wren Committee, made up of 20 trucking executives, determined that it was a "critical" flaw in ATA's structure that truckers could join an ATA affiliated conference at a fraction of the cost of ATA membership and, through the conference, enjoy most of the benefits of full ATA membership.
The Novation's Group, a corporate turnaround consultant hired by the Wren Committee, said that as long as ATA allowed its services to be repackaged and sold by the conferences, at less than full cost, it was unlikely that ATA would be able to reverse the trend of declining membership. Novations predicted more and more members would leave ATA and join an affiliated conference to avoid paying full ATA membership dues.
"Eventually, ATA would collapse, unable to generate dues revenues sufficient to recover the costs of overhead incurred in its own work, let alone the overhead incurred in its support of the conferences and 50 affiliated state associations," according to a briefing to the ATA Executive Committee.
The Wren Plan caused a considerable stir among TCA members, many of whom balked at the mandatory membership in ATA, which would have increased their association dues bills substantially. Consequently, TCA and ATA have been dancing with the issues since the Wren Plan was announced.
In March, in an almost evenly divided vote, TCA members rejected the ATA affiliation plan. Bob Hansen, TCA chairman, said at the time the vote was not a rejection of ATA, but of the mandatory membership requirement, and that TCA would continue to attempt to find a way for the two groups to come together.Some TCA members say they need more proof of ATA's value before committing to becoming full dues-paying members.
Many at TCA also feared the ATA affliation plan would disenchant many truckload carriers, pushing them to quit TCA in protest to form a separate trade association, thus splitting the truckload industry representation and cutting into TCA coffers.
Last month, a group of selected TCA leaders met and hatched its own plan to affiliate with ATA. In it, TCA would have paid ATA a flat $10,000 a month "affiliation fee." TCA members would also be asked to make a "voluntary contribution" of $1 per truck per month, in lieu of paying dues to ATA.
In rejecting the plan, ATA Chairman Lee Shaffer said "...the TCA plan, if adopted, would allow some TCA members to draw value from ATA at a fraction of the cost of belonging to ATA, fail to help secure the financial future of state trucking associations, and would result in unfairness to members of other conferences who have agreed to the full dues requirements of the Wren Plan."
Interestingly, just two days earlier, the TCA board of directors voted down an already deficit budget to in order to allocate $500,000 to help ATA fight DOT’s hours of service proposal.
TCA member Ed Trout, who served as ATA chairman at the time the Wren Plan was adopted, said with that decision "TCA showed its true colors" in showing strong support of ATA as the truckload advocate on one of the biggest issues to face the industry in decades.
However, it remains to be seen if and how the two groups will coexist. The TCA's alternative affiliation plan was seen by some as an a last-ditch effort to keep the two largest trucking industry trade organizations from splintering off in different directions, further eroding trucking's political clout.
TCA is also currently a ship without a captain. Lana Batts, former president of the group, resigned to enter the private sector in the wake of the integration battle. TCA is currently entertaining applicants for president.
TCA also restructured and has set as its strategic goal to become more of an educational support for its members, allowing ATA to represent the group in polictical advocacy issues. TCA currently has no political action committee or representation on the Hill.
But ATA has made it clear they will not continue to do the work for groups who won't foot their share of the bill.
"The suggested dollar a truck per month contribution may carry with it a connotation that this is a full and fair contribution to the work of the trucking industry before Congress, the courts, the regulatory agencies, the news media and the states," an ATA Management Committee report stated. "It is not."
The report added that if truckload carriers opted for the dollar a truck a month approach it would "seriously injure ATA recruiting efforts and undermine our goal of lowering ATA dues for all carriers through continued expansion of the ATA membership base."