Well, this has been another tough year for many of us. Although we've been told the recession ended back in June 2009, there still are 15 million Americans out of work. And while the economy may be in recovery, it's a halting recovery—I'm sure your toy orders are down again this year. There are still some out there who believe things will pick up any day now, and I hope they're correct. But I'm not optimistic we'll see much relief for another year or so. For that reason, I'll keep my requests to a minimum.
As you know, we have a new Congress now, and I hope you'll see fit to fill the congressional stockings with wisdom and good judgment. We need members of Congress to stop fighting with each other and start pulling together to find ways to stoke the engines of economic growth.
Speaking of Congress, you've no doubt noted that James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, lost his bid for re-election. That's not good. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, I'm sure you'll agree that he had a thorough understanding of the nation's infrastructure challenges and what's needed to address them. When you talk to House members, see if you can persuade them to replace him with someone who will put the country's needs ahead of politics. We desperately need a national transportation policy and plan. I know jobs are important; but we need to make transportation decisions based on national transportation needs, not local job creation.
As was the case when I wrote to you last year, there is still a reregulation bill lurking in the Senate. I hope this year you can kill it. Transportation deregulation has been good for the industry and good for the economy, and we should not take this backward step. And while we're on the topic, you might want to take a hard look at the bill—there's probably something in there about sleigh regulation.
Please see if you can help with the harbor trucking controversy as well. The order to start phasing independent harbor truckers into trucking fleets has been stayed until all appeals have been heard, but the battle is far from over. While clean air is the basic issue, it is no coincidence that independents can be organized by the Teamsters under this scheme. Your mediation skills are needed.
Hours of service for truck drivers are still up in the air, and a ruling from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is expected any day. I believe you already have a few elves working on this. I hope they won't let the FMCSA throw the baby out with the bathwater. After all, highway fatalities dropped 20 percent in 2009, and fatalities have been the major impetus behind this rule change. Can you imagine what a mess Christmas Eve would be if reindeer could only fly 10 hours at a stretch?
I wrote about the Comprehensive Safety Analysis initiative (CSA 2010) in last month's column, so I won't dwell on it here. Suffice it to say that while I think this is a fair regulation in general, it still has some kinks in it. We need to be sure these are worked out before the program is rolled out nationally.
While we all want to keep unsafe operators off the road, we must be fair about how they and the carriers are evaluated. Otherwise, there could be a high price to pay when growth ramps up. If history is any indication, rising freight demand will likely mean a shortage of drivers, and unfair enforcement of CSA 2010 could exacerbate the problem. Combine that with the predicted capacity crunch, and we could have another tug of war between carriers and shippers. I think we learned last time this happened that no one wins if either group tries to take advantage of the other. We will need your calming influence. If all else fails, cut off the toys.
Merry Christmas to you, Mrs. Claus, and all the elves.
Clifford F. Lynch