During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump highlighted the trucking industry as an example of a hard-core American business populated by middle-class voters who were ready to embrace his populist message. The industry, for the most part, returned the embrace that November.
Thirteen months into the Trump presidency, however, it appears a large faction of the trucking industry, namely the 160,000 or so sole proprietors and micro-fleets belonging to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), are starting to wonder, "where is the love?"
In a February 5 letter to Trump, Todd Spencer, OOIDA's acting president and CEO and the group's long-time chief lobbyist, said the president must steer clear of representatives of "large, corporate motor carriers," and instead get out and meet with "Americans who actually drive for a living" and "who helped get you elected" to fully understand their needs and concerns, and by extension, trucking's role in the nation's economic and everyday lives.
As of late last week, OOIDA had not received a response from the administration. Nor has Trump sent out any tweets directed at Spencer or his group. OOIDA's headquarters, located in the Kansas City suburb of Grain Valley, Mo., was closed today due to inclement weather.
Trump has spoken before truckers' groups in the past to tout his economic agenda. The most recent was last October in Harrisburg, Pa. to promote his plan for tax reform. Perhaps Trump's most visible interaction with industry folk came last March at the White House, where he met with trucking CEOs and other industry bigwigs to discuss health care reform. The president had various photos taken in the cab of a power unit.
The event got OOIDA's dander up because it was organized by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), which represents large motor carriers that Spencer said have "vastly different legislative and regulatory priorities than the real truckers" that his group represents. ATA and OOIDA have long-standing policy differences which stem from the divergent composition of the respective constituencies.ELD: NOT FOR ME
Not surprisingly, Spencer's letter focused on the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate, which went into effect Dec. 18 and which OOIDA has fiercely opposed. The mandate ended the use of paper logbooks for virtually all truckers, and required vehicles built after the year 2000 to be equipped with ELDs to ensure compliance with federal driver hours-of-service rules.
Many drivers are "perplexed and disappointed" the Trump administration has not heeded their calls to reverse or, at least delay, the mandate, especially since many of them voted for Trump with the belief that his administration's efforts to provide regulatory relief would begin with the ELD mandate, Spencer wrote.
Into its third month, the ELD mandate shows no signs of being blocked or reversed. OOIDA, which has tried unsuccessfully in the courts and in Congress to stall or prevent the rule's implementation, has asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for a five-year exemption for drivers who meet specific criteria. FMCSA has granted various exemptions to companies and certain types of trucking operations; various states have asked for exemptions to help truckers who transport commodities vital to their state's economies.
Most observers believed that once the courts upheld the regulation, legislative remedies would not be forthcoming because Congress had in 2015 directed FMCSA to craft such a rule. In addition, opponents would find it hard to reverse a regulation whose primary objective was to improve highway safety. OOIDA has argued that the rule is costly, unnecessary, and unconstitutional. The group has called the mandate the most disruptive regulation in the industry's history.
Spencer, who has a reputation for being blunt-spoken, was careful in his letter to laud Trump for demonstrating his support for the trucking industry and for acknowledging that truckers are a "critical component to relief efforts during national disasters and emergencies." He praised the president for the "support and respect you have publicly shown our industry" in his first year in office.
A shorter version of this story appears in our March 2018 print edition under the title "Truckers petition Trump for ELD relief."