It's nice to have friends in high places. And shippers who are pushing to end antitrust immunity for truckers appear to have just such friends. The departments of Justice (DOJ) and Transportation (DOT) have sided with shippers who oppose continued immunity for the truckers' National Classification Committee (NCC).
The long-simmering dispute, which is now before the Surface Transportation Board (STB), centers on the role of the NCC, a branch of the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA). The NCC does not set truck rates, but it does have responsibility for classifying commodities based on their handling characteristics, density, value and so forth. Truckers and rate bureaus then use those classifications to set rates—the higher the class, generally, the higher the rate. The NCC's exemption from antitrust law has enabled truckers to establish those classes jointly. And although the NMFTA argues that classification is quite distinct from pricing, many shippers argue that the joint activity helps keep rates artificially inflated.
In comments filed with the STB, the DOJ urged the board to terminate antitrust immunity for both the NCC and the rate bureaus, arguing, "...Congress has made it clear that the trucking industry should move from a regulated environment toward a reliance on competitive forces. ... Since [the] market system has served our economy well, grants of immunity should be rare. The characteristics of the motor carrier industry do not merit an exception to this general rule."
Likewise, the DOT has filed comments insisting that the STB withdraw antitrust immunity from the NCC. But in a bow to the trucking industry, the DOT called for phasing out immunity, rather than eliminating it outright.