The president of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) lashed out today at the agenda and tactics of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) with an outpouring of vitriol rarely seen in public by a trade group executive toward another association in the same industry.
Following his keynote address at the Nasstrac Shipper Conference and Expo in Orlando, Chris Spear was asked if OOIDA was justified in feeling excluded from the various events involving President Trump and what the group decried as corporate truckers. He was also asked why the two groups weren't standing more shoulder-to-shoulder on common issues. His voice rising in anger, Spear called OOIDA's approaches "meaningless," referred to the group as "combative," and said he doesn't "lose sleep" over OOIDA's mission, how it implements it, and the struggles it faces.
In an extraordinary series of comments, Spear said that he and his family have received death threats from OOIDA interests, that persons affiliated with OOIDA interests have threatened to bomb ATA's headquarters in Arlington, Va., and that OOIDA interests have labeled an ATA executive vice president—who Spear did not identify--a child molester. OOIDA officials did not respond at press time to an e-mail request for comment.
Ironically, Spear's prepared remarks included a strong call for coalition-building among transportation trade groups as a way to present a unified voice on legislative and regulatory issues. He did not mention OOIDA in his remarks. The two groups have been at loggerheads for years over a number of issues. ATA mainly represents the larger fleets. OOIDA, which boasts 160,000 members, represents independent operators and microfleets.
Most of OOIDA's enmity towards ATA, and by extension towards Spear, stems from the sharp break over the federal government's requirement that electronic logging devices (ELDs) be installed in virtually all trucks built after the year 2000 to ensure drivers comply with federal regulations governing their hours of service. Spear joined ATA less than two years ago from carmaker Hyundai Motor Co. He added that many of the hot-button ELD-related issues had been well vetted long before he got to ATA.
ATA, many of whose members had installed ELDs in their fleets long before it became compulsory, has long supported the mandate. OOIDA has adamantly opposed it, calling it unconstitutional, a waste of money, and a failure in boosting highway safety. The mandate took effect Dec. 18, and state highway inspectors began enforcing it on April 1 after a three-and-a-half-month grace period.
Soon after joining ATA, Spear travelled to OOIDA's headquarters in Grain Valley, Mo., a suburb of Kansas City, to meet with OOIDA founder Jim Johnston. Spear said he was aware the two would cross swords on the ELD mandate, but the two were aligned over most of the issues they face. Johnston died in January, and he was succeeded by Todd Spencer, OOIDA's long-time chief lobbyist and someone regarded by those who know the group as more hard line than Johnston.
In February, Spencer sent a letter to the White House urging Trump to steer clear of representatives of "large, corporate motor carriers," and to 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. Today, Spear ridiculed the inference that drivers who work for ATA members are any different than the thousands of owner-operators who comprise OOIDA's constituency. "They all drive trucks," he said.
Spear's comments touched off a flurry of discussion at the Nasstrac gathering. Several opined that OOIDA has a rigid ideology, that it is unwilling to compromise, and that its confrontational approach is designed to demonstrate to its members a grittiness that those who run solo for a living can appreciate.
Spear questioned why OOIDA isn't supporting legislation to allow driver applicants between 18 and 21 to operate in interstate commerce under specific guidelines, even though 48 states allow drivers under 21 to run within their respective borders. "Where is OOIDA on this issue," Spear said, voicing wonder why the group wouldn't back a bill that would create more opportunity for its members.