The undeclared war on owner-operators

Greg Fulton | July 30, 2013

Why would our government make war on one of the most productive and safest groups in the transportation sector?

While there is no declared or undeclared war on owner-operators and independent drivers by government, it sure feels like it for many of them.  How else can one explain the variety of laws, regulations, and rules that have come out or are pending that may adversely affect them?

The title of this letter to Overdrive by Colorado Motor Carriers Association President Gregory Fulton, he says, is "a phrase that I heard from a frustrated owner-operator."
The title of this op-ed for Overdrive by Colorado Motor Carriers Association President Greg Fulton, he says, is “a phrase that I heard from a frustrated owner-operator.”

Let’s look at what this undeclared war looks like.

First, we have the federal and many state governments seeking to redefine and reinterpret what constitutes an independent contractor in trucking and the relationship between motor carriers and owner-operators.  The independent contractor model and use of owner-operators in the trucking industry has  been in place for more than 50 years, and many of the owners of the largest trucking companies in the country started as independent drivers. While this model is not perfect, it has generally worked well for both independent drivers and companies. Now we have a number of states pushing for these owner-operators to be considered employees instead of independent contractors. This concept fails to recognize that there are thousands of employee-driving jobs available across the country that these talented individuals could accept. Instead, they choose to be  owner-operators because of the freedom it provides them and the opportunities (and risks) of being their own boss and running their own small business. Unfortunately, this push by some state governments and other interest groups has had a chilling effect as some companies reconsider the use of owner-operators for fear that they may be subject to unwarranted investigations and fines.

In the end this push by government acts to limit the opportunities for owner-operators and independent drivers.

Second, there are the new hours of service (HOS) rules, which have disproportionately affected many owner-operators. The timing of these rules is particularly frustrating as those independent drivers, who recently survived the country’s worst recession in our generation and are still struggling, now face another  blow to their financial well-being. Probably even more vexing is that the new rules are not based on sound science and offer little benefit in their eyes in the way of safety.

While the new HOS rules are disconcerting, more regulations are on the way. The recent federal highway reauthorization (MAP-21)  requires FMCSA  to complete 29 new safety regulations within 27 months. Included in this list are several that will affect owner-operators, including rules for electronic logging devices, a national clearinghouse for drug and alcohol test results, new guidelines for safety inspections and others. While many of these proposed regulations and rules may have value in improving safety, the sheer volume of them will pose a further challenge for owner-operators in the way of costs and trying to stay compliant.

Third, the changing standards for vehicles have increased costs while posing a challenge in reliability. The 2014 engine standards are estimated to increase costs for a tractor by thousands of dollars. Based on the fact that large fleets buy significant numbers of new trucks, their costs will be substantially less per truck than those of an owner-operator buying one vehicle. Unfortunately, these new engines come on the heels of the 2010 models, which have had their share of problems from a reliability standpoint. New standards for brakes and other safety features will further push up vehicle costs in the near term, creating an even greater cost gap between owner-operators and fleets.

Finally, there is the staggering number of new state and local regulations targeted at trucking. These include local air quality regulations, idling standards, parking restrictions, noise ordinances, new fees and etc. The changes created by these new regulations are usually poorly communicated to the trucking industry and even more so to independents. In many cases, the fines for violating one of these laws can be very steep, as local governments equate big trucks with big income. In many cases independents only find out about a new regulation after they have been fined for it, which may wipe out the entire profit from a run for an owner-operator.

How do we get to a truce in this undeclared war? As in any battle, one stops firing the weapons. In this case, the weapons happen to be regulations and laws that are ill-considered and lack input from the people most affected. We need the government at all levels to “disarm” by curtailing new regulations and rules and reconsidering some of the existing ones, such as the new hours of service. Owner-operators and independent drivers have helped to build the trucking industry in our country into the most efficient freight operation in the world. Let’s not strangle these industrious and hardworking individuals with voluminous rules which are long on paper and short on benefit.

  • http://www.lifewithnofixedaddress.com/ Life With No Fixed Address

    Well said.

  • No Reform

    Government wont stop till opposition is crushed.

  • No Reform

    Rich men control our government today. Apparently they have an agenda and “vision” for American Trucking. Thru campaign contributions and blackmail they purchase Government Officials including Lawmakers.
    Expect more of the same to continue..they are obsessed with Greed, Power and Control.

  • martymarsh

    It’s all about who controls the money and the people, you have to control the money to control the people.

  • Mike

    Its time to stop our trucks and have rich men handle the transportation. Than we might have normal life, not just paying them whatever we make.

  • Ed Traub

    Very well said.

  • Tigger

    I would be happy to park my truck for a month to see how well the rich would get their stuff, but we all have to do it and that would be impossible. The truckers CAN shut down the country just like they did in Europe.

  • L Busby

    Thank you for your article. The big trucking companies and the medical groups are the winners that will continue and the owner operator will be pushed out. My husband and I have been driving for 9 years and love it but now it is to expensive and we just keep absorbing the expenses. If we increase our rates, we lose our clients. We finally decided that the first of next year, we are out. Not sure what is next but when you don’t love what you are doing and the government is getting more and more involved with issues they have no clue about.
    Maybe a government agency will see your article, doubt it.

  • 4btrucking

    Don’t think for a second that all these rules and extra equipment cost don’t hurt the big guys too. Bill Graves was sorely disappointed when Barack got re-elected…I’ve been hearing this war on O/O’s since I started in the late 90′s…when government refuses to let you operate your own business, America will no longer exist…

  • JACKIE

    I AM SO PISSED AT ALL THE BS,I CAN’T COMMENT BECAUSE THEY WOULD LOCK ME UP AND THROW AWAY THE KEY!

  • PEDRO

    Tigger’s right! This has been going on for a long time in one form or another!
    I remember when all the old timers said that they weren’t going to get a CDL and they quit driving over it. That’s not the answer. Just as it is with almost all things in this country, money talks and BS walks! There will come a day when there will be revolt against our governmental oppression, and I think it will start right in the gut of the guys who were once known as “The last of the American Cowboy!!!” “INDEPENDANT OWNER OPERATORS”

  • JJMclure

    good thing ifta gives refunds when you don’t operate

  • 1hardbone

    Basically it comes down to this! The Trucking Industry is a lap dog. I am sorry for this comment, but basically all 1 would have to do is park the rigs. (Retired O/O 37 + yrs.)

  • Concerned owner-operator

    Besides all the crazy high taxes, along with the “miscellaneous” taxes, etc the govt imposes all these crazy laws to a system that is NOT BROKEN! If it isn’t broken do not try to fix it!!! They need to be concentrating on fixing the REAL problems in government!! Oh like budget, defense cuts, mis-spending, grid lock in congress, etc…. Leave us working men and women alone! We provide a necessary service and for 99% of us do a FINE job! With all the overhead the owner operators have such as truck/trailer payments of thousand of dollars, high insurance, fuel costs and taxes it is difficult to make a living! We do this because we like what we do! Thank you for the article!

  • localnet

    Rich men? You guys that are spouting this nonsense are part of the problem! Rich? Who is “rich” in your mind? The guy working at your local 7-11 that makes $1 more a year than you do? Enough with the class warfare, this is an ideological war, this is classic corporatism/communism. This is not about rich or poor, this is about the destruction of our country in the name of an insane quest for power by a handful of leftists in a few companies, universities, the leftist trained media and a leftist government. A hundred year progressive plan that is now bearing fruit, and we are all the victims, both rich and poor.

  • PEDRO

    I understand the “park the rigs”, but realistically it ain’t gonna happen. I too have 30+ years, 24 as an Independent, and I remember the convoy days and the shutdown notices that crisscrossed the nation by way of CB radio and what happened?, NOTHING!
    Apathy in trucking is just as it is in this nation, look at our voter turn out and the results of the apathy of the voter. We are getting what we deserve because no one cares enough to stand for what the know to be right and good!
    This is why we have the troubles not only with trucking in general, but with all independent businesses. We are oppressed to pay the way for the lazy and thieves because they are the ones who are in control.
    Yes, we do it because we like it, amen to that!!!
    Still think that a revolution is coming, just not sure who the “good” and “right “are?

  • localnet

    No, they will be the ultimate losers, study your History.

  • KW 57

    Well folks, I would say you are closing the barn door after the horse has left! What you all do not get is that if all of the independent drivers pulled off the road, it may hurt retail business for a few days or a week, but remember this: INTERMODEL! The Rail Roads are being controlled by the US Government! They receive many grants, tax breaks, and they pay less than $ 1.00 per gallon of diesel fuel. Their fuel is considered off road, and so no taxes. They receive subsidies from the government to keep them moving along. The rail roads also have considerable contracts with companies like JB Hunt, Swift, and many others. So a independent shut-down is not going to work. We no longer have a democracy here, we have the making of a socialist nation, and it keeps getting worse by the day. No matter what you may think we are destined to be a socialist country. The rail roads were going by the wayside a few decades back,, but due to government intervention and our elected officials being paid off they are now bigger and better than ever! Independant companies or drivers will be the last of the cowboys that will just go down in the history books. Do your self a favor, stop talking about doing something about this problem, and get these elected officials out of office and lets start over, just like we did in 1776!

  • PEDRO

    kw57, that’s what I’ve been saying, a revolution, be it at the polls or, and if, we still have our guns!

  • john f

    finally , an article with some truth to it !! Congrats Mr Fulton, you hit a bulls eye with this article .

  • Angie Culver

    Please…I am well aware of who the rich are! It’s the guys that are suppose tp be working for you, we gave them the power to break this country and lack the #&al*s take it back, but not the ability to cry about it. Who do you think has the biggest and deepest pockets…not us that’s for sure, if we don’t get organized and stand together we are all screw#d! But I am sure the railroad will take up any slack with the local drivers, think about it who gains the most in o.o. going under! Not us that’s for sure

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dave-Rupp/100000895948955 Dave Rupp

    The only way to fight this is for the Independent Owners to band together and go into federal court like the ATA did and petition to have these laws ruled invalid.

  • Johnnier

    This also goes for small companies of 5 drivers or less. I had to. Lay off everybody after 38 years in business.

  • idontknowyou

    Yeah – we can have a “normal” life where we sit around collecting government handouts?? I don’t know about you but no one FORCED me to drive. If you don’t like driving why don’t you shut down your truck or maybe you should just shut your mouth.

  • DJohnson

    Here is a thought stop driving! Of course, drivers won’t stick together although they say America will shut down in x number of day let us try it. Also, the only reason to (re) classify an owner operator to an employee is for the government federal and state to collect payroll taxes. Finally, compare this to the Longshoremen who make $90,000 a year?

  • CONSERNED US TRUCKER

    I KNOW IT IS BIG TRUCKING COMPANIES LOBBYING IN D.C. TO PUSH FOR ANY THING TO HURT THE SMALL COMPANIES. ITS CALLED SELF PRESERVATION AND GREED. HOW MUCH LONGER ARE WE THE AMERICAN TRUCKER GOING TO STAND BY AND NOT BE HEARD?
    ITS TIME TO BE THE SQUEEKING WHEEL AND GET THE GREASE.

  • CONSERNED US TRUCKER

    HOW DO WE ORGANIZE A PROTEST IN D.C. LETS DRIVE A BUNCH OF TRUCKS DOWN THERE AND PROTEST….LETS HAVE THE MILLION TRUCKER MARCH

  • MillionsOfMiles

    There is some” truth in this op-ed but its not simply a war on O-O’s but actually an attempt to push small-business motor carriers from the market. For each and every point made by Greg, with the exception of classification and HOS changes, the ATA of which the CMCA is affiliated, has lobbied for and supported each and every one of them under the guise of “safety” or being “green.” As far as independent contractor status coming under attack – well, again the ATA and their love affair with lease-purchase scams is at fault (and yes – most lease purchasers are misclassified as independent contractors).

  • CONSERNED US TRUCKER

    WHY IS THIS MENTALITY AGAINST SMALL CARRIERS BEING TOSSED AROUND LIKE ITS THERE FAULT BIG COMPANIES ARE NOT MAKING A PROFIT. THE REASON THE BIG CARRIERS ARE NOT MAKING A PROFIT IS BECAUSE THEY ARE GREADY,THERE PAY SUCKS,THEY LIE , AND ITS JUST THE NATURE OF TRUCKING NOT TO KEEP BODYS IN THERE TRUCKS BECAUSE TRUCKING IS HARD. WHY IS McDONALDS NOT TRYING TO SHUT DOWN EVERY MOM AN POP JOINT AND LOBBYING FOR STRICT RULES TO OPEN UP A FAST FOOD CHAIN? ANSWER:
    BECAUSE THERE MAKING BOO KOO MONEY
    .
    WITH HIGH FUEL COST AND EVERY OTHER HIGH COST THE BIG CARRIERS WANT TO BLAME EVERY BODY ELSE WHEN THEY SHOULD BE BLAMMING THEM SELVES FOR EVEN GETTING INTO TRUCKING…..

  • CONSERNED US TRUCKER

    THEY SHOULD OF BOUGHT A McDONALDS INSTEAD OF TRUCKS

  • poor trucker

    just say when.

  • CONSERNED US TRUCKER

    IM READY….LETS TRY AND ORGANIZE THIS AND MAKE IT HAPPEN

  • CONSERNED US TRUCKER

    FACE BOOK EVERY TRUCKER YOU KNOW – CALL EVERY TRUCKER YOU KNOW – TALK ON THE C.B AND JUST GET THE WORD OUT AND LETS ROLL DOWN INTO D.C. AND BE HEARD

  • CONSERNED US TRUCKER

    WHEN THIS POST GETS ENOUGH REPLYS – WE WILL MAKE THIS HAPPEN… I OWN MY OWN TRUCK AND DEFFINATLEY WILL LEAD THE FRONT DOOR

  • Jammer

    Lets face it ,the Government is out to exterminate Owner/Operators. Like the previous commenter has insinuated, get rid of the opposition. And if all of us drivers continue to fight one another, their ( the Government) gonna win..

  • jim stewart

    First of all this messing around with the independent contractor status came from outside special interest groups with a huge agenda of their own to pull off along with tons of political capital they purchased with big labor monies. It’s difficult for the union (Teamsters) to organize/unionize independent contractors AKA-owner/op’s so the Teamsters started a monster campaign back in 2006 along with the newly formed mega labor group they (and several other discontent unions) created when they dumped the AFL-CIO calling the new labor group Change-to-Win.. (CTW) now wanted to move massive membership funds into a couple of really good campaigns so after several high level meetings in Washington,DC their top choice was the Teamsters Port Trucker Campaign as their future winning lotto ticket to organize hundreds of thousands of new members.

    Now begins the most expensive labor intensive campaign ever launched but first to get rid of those pesky owner/operator trucker (independent-contractor/status) allowing unions to unionize strictly employee drivers on company owned equipment nationwide beginning with the California ports where they knew they would have the most support from legislators as well as leftest groups, then if successful on to the east coast. With extravagant campaign contributions(totaling well over a million) to the mayor of LA along with a massive ground swell of grass roots campaigning around the country to get Obama elected as well as other friendly’s into the right lawmaker positions the government has been with them every step of the way. CTW leadership doesn’t understand the mentality of why any driver would want to own their own business? Why not just be a happy union employee without any ownership rights? They absolutely do not care what truckers want or any other worker for that matter. It’s all about $$$$/massive union membership dollar$.

    They want complete socialism within the trucking industry / control / starting at the front door of every port and rail yard in America. Not only control of every port trucking operation but the ultimate goal is to use that leverage to go after the big box retailers like their number one enemy Walmart. Then it’s Dollar Tree, Dollar Store, Home Depot,Lowes’,Target,K-Mart, Best Buy, Publix, control over all DC’s in America..

    In mean time the collateral damage at the California ports where they succeeded in making trucking so expensive for the owner-operator to remain in business that most lost truckers lost everything, well they want to repeat same in NJ / NY and now the nations fourth largest port Savannah,GA.

  • godfearingrebel

    Say when

  • Tom AndSheila Hurd

    There are only 2 options at this point, submit until bankrupt by either fines or inability haul because it is impossible to comply or rebel, It would seem there would be a point when everyone would be willing to shut down for a week or two to get a better work environment, and make no mistake, mothers against tired truckers will not go without toilet paper for long before they lobby for changes so they can once again wipe in comfort.

  • DE_from_NC

    martymarsh It SURE IS NICE to hear from somebody else that see’s “the banksters control it all !” Ron Paul showed us HOW they do it and Braindead America continues down the psychopathic path of “it’s the Republikrats or the Demopublican’s fault” ! NOT REALIZING THEY ARE ONE HUGE “PARTY OF THE SAME” !! And their “handlers” last names are Rothschild, Rochefeller, Dupont or a handful of others !! They want the trucks stopped (using the current “restart, take a 30 minute MANDANTORY break add on rules”) TO GET THE STORE SHELVES BARE !! Then, with everybody on their knees BEGGIN’, they’ll say “here, sign on to be my “personal shoeshine boy for life” AND I’LL SORTA GIVE YA YOUR LIFE BACK !! There’s NO VOTING ANYMORE !! That’s why the banksters PUSHED THROUGH the Diebold electronic voting ! They just “load the vote flipping software in the machines” to “appoint their next “puppet”. This can be seen here- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ky-YXvxYbck

  • martymarsh

    DE, you don’t have to convince me of anything, but I did get a great laugh out of the no voting anymore. Here I was starting to think I was the only one that knew that. As far as the 2 party system, anyone with a brain in their head should know, it’s called divide and conquer, one side just happens to be singing asong you like at a particular time.

  • martymarsh
  • martymarsh
  • Alan Fine

    Stop the fuel and gas trucks from delivering to truck stops and gas stations. That’s the only way to show the power of the industry.

  • BigKahuna

    Everything you described was Fascist not Socialist, DUMBASS. The gubmt does not own the railroads, the railroads own the gubmt..

    Now where I might agree with you is that we should get these clowns outta office, but not if you mean put the reBUBBAkins back in to replace the DUMBOcraps, SCREW U — If U thiink that’s gonna solve anything, you’re an ignoramus (another word for CONservaTARD). If U mean we need to get RID OF BOTH PARTIES, like they did in 1776, RIGHT ON ! I have plenty of guns and ammo, let’s rock ‘n roll! But, of course, you know, this is never gonna happen, right ?? Too many PUSSIES out there..

    So let’s just face facts here. America will never be #1 again. It’s all downhill from here.. I, personally, don’t even vote anymore. It’s a waste of time. I’m just saving my pennies so I can one day retire South of the Border (and I don’t mean Mexico), where the waterfalls are cool, the women are real (not spoiled American brats), & healthcare costs are reasonable.

    America is DONE. and there ain’t a DAMM thing you can do about it.. Wake up to REALITY, you whining bozos

  • BigKahuna

    SOCIALISM! COMMUNISM!! OBAMAISM!!! It’s all the GodDammed LIBERALS fault !!!! oh, I almost forgot, it’s the UNIONs fault, too !!

    Pull your head outta Rush Limpbrain’s ass, numnuts. The problem started with Lincoln, one of the worst presidents of all time — and the one who set the precedent for the gubmt we have today..

    ..just another uneducated right-wingnut dolt — and we wonder what’s wrong with America today ?!?

  • B Singh

    The only way out is get united and one voice, we just want fair laws that make some sense, these new laws dose not make any sense no one can survive, Country going in wrong direction, will lead to more unemployment than to more crime , unsafe society its not about rich at that point. That’s not American way, They sent all the jobs to other countries now trying to crush there own people on there own land. Wake Up Washinghton, You action should make all American strong look back are we strong ? go back and think before more damaged is done ,Make some good History to be Proud of in future its not about trucking ,Just be Fair.
    Thanks

  • Cowboy Magic

    Fellow Drivers it is my belief we have become a WEAK PATSY to the Government!!! We as an organization will need to come together and stand in a STRONG VOICE for our industry before we can get the attention of whats become, in many cases a career politicians intention to put us out of business. Those on capital hill and our local and state government are oblivious to the heart beat and needs of our industry, while trying to regulate something they know nothing about………. I move refrigerated freight into warehouses that literally have a couple of days stored for what has become known as load to market. This means the majority of the people in our country could go hungry if our trucks stopped supplying those commodities!!!! My question to you is what would the American PEOPLE do if we parked our trucks for ONE WEEK????? I think it would get the attention of those who are trying to regulate us out of business!!!! IF WE DON’T STAND TOGETHER AS OUR FOREFATHERS HAVE DONE MANY TIMES IN THE PAST, IT’S NOT A QUESTION OF WHEN OR WHO WILL BE DRIVEN OUT OF BUSINESS!!!!! I think we all have a risk of loosing what we’ve all work so hard to build.

  • DOODLE

    STRIKE, STRIKE THATS ALL IT TAKES AND NOT FOR LONG

  • Mountain Flyer

    Well written article, Greg… spot on.

  • John Aalborg

    We no longer have intelligent leaders in any branch of government, we have salesmen. Good at selling themselves to corporate donations. Unfortunately we may have passed the tipping point re “we the people”.