Lawyer uses social media to promote trucker rights

| October 17, 2011

Social media is “the start of something big” for drivers working together for industry change, “and you have to lead,” attorney Paul Taylor said to drivers and owner-operators during a panel discussion at the inaugural Truck Driver Social Media Convention Oct. 15 in Tunica, Miss.

Taylor discussed Surface Transportation Assistance Act protections from various retaliatory acts drivers may experience. Taylor owes “the success of my law practice to getting the word out about this law” via early trucking social media like the message board Truck.net. The STAA makes it illegal for “any person” to retaliate for a driver’s lawful refusal to violate safety regulations. For instance, he said, “If I have a bald tire, the regulations say I must refuse to drive the truck.”

Given the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program’s consideration of all violations in carriers’ and, eventually, drivers’ safety scores, the stakes are high.

Drivers who have been retaliated against for refusing to perpetuate a “reasonably perceived violation of a commercial vehicle safety regulation,” Taylor said, can within 180 days of the incident file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the Department of Labor. If the DOL rules against the driver, then seek an attorney for your appeal hearing in front of a DOL-employed judge.

Successful cases can result in restitution of employment, correction of information on driver DAC Reports and/or damage payments. Successful cases will depend on drivers’ and owner-operators’ communication of the problem/potential resulting violation the refusal is based on, as well as evidence of the retaliation through photos or recorded conversations. Taylor advised drivers to be aware of consent laws, which vary from state to state, if they’re using a tape recorder.

“The best time to get advice is before something happens,” Taylor said. “It’s a matter of having proof.”

At the same time, he urged drivers to remember that lawsuits should be considered a last resort. “A lot of drivers wish they had never gone through it,” he said.

The convention was organized by Allen and Donna Smith of the Truth About Trucking organization.

Among other convention highlights:

James McCormack of Trucking Careers of America talked about his company program of tailoring job hunting to drivers’ individual needs and skills. Of the options open to drivers for entry-level training, McCormack said, independent CDL schools hold many advantages over company-affiliated training. Problems that occur, however, result from the fact that many schools “aren’t familiar with how [carriers] operate,” he noted. It “makes sense to have a headhunter” working for you on job placement who does, he added.

Former independent owner-operator Eddie Gichuhi, CEO and founder of owner-operator business software provider Trip Sheet Central, talked about successful business strategies in the social media age. Given that 90 percent of trucking businesses fail within the first 14 months, adopting accounting, marketing and operating strategies at the outset has never been more important, he noted. You can download Gichuhi’s presentation with speaker notes included, titled “Business Management for Truckers,” via http://truckbiz.net/social-media-convention.

Hope Rivenburg, wife of slain trucker Jason Rivenburg, was honored for her efforts to expand safe and secure truck parking on the National Highway System through promotion of Jason’s Law, named for her deceased husband. The “Making a Difference” award she received was voted on by drivers. She also received a seven-day Florida vacation, donated by TheLoadPost.com.

Kylla Leeburg of Truckers Against Trafficking accepted an honor for her organization’s efforts to combat child prostitution. Since establishing a national hotline – (888) 373-7888 – hundreds of drivers have called in, resulting in several arrests crucial in state and federal investigations, Leeburg said. “We would not exist without you guys standing up and making the calls” to report suspicious activity.

Drivers won CBs and DC-to-AC inverters manufactured by Cobra Electronics in a raffle drawing, and independent owner-operator Steve Nelson of Memphis, Tenn., received a prize set of Kronos Energy Solutions side skirts for his 53-foot van.

Morristown, Tenn.-based B&B Transport driver and singer-songwriter Tony Justice performed songs from his upcoming album, “On the Road,” which will be available in Pilot Flying J locations nationwide Nov. 1. –Kathleen Buccleugh contributed to this report.

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