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.

  • JETaratuta

    It’s a sad day when the most important document after your CDL is your membership card in a CDL Legal Plan, which may cost more per month than a CDL school payment . . .

    The more rules, the more corruption.
    The more corruption, the more rules . . .

  • RR

    I do not think this just affects owner operators, this also affects small trucking companies too! we have a fleet of 3 and the cost for the CA Air regulations upgrades alone is going to financially hurt our company! And only getting a dollar a mile for backhauls does not make it any easier!!!!

  • bullshit rules stink

    ok, I just read this and I must say, government is trying to push us all, so they can control us, tell us what, when, where, and how high to jump. the new log book rules came out, ok fine. But do they need to stop some to check log book ,on the average of once a week. No, I say it is harassment on their part. So what I am a small company. you can’t find nothing so leave me alone. I don’t run , run down equipment, and stay with in the speed. So why all the harassment, I hope you cops read this too. I getting tired of it.

  • kike

    even a blind can see that the big corporations ,and special interest groups aligned with some politicians are pushing small business owners and operators out of their way so they can control everything. High prices of diesel, high taxes, high fees and fines, more rules, more regulations, more bs,etc etc. all in the name of buorocracy.

  • Bill Langer

    It’s time to get together I’ll agree. But I think we need a Smart trustworthy group that will fight for us in court and politicly. Organize the cause when they say to call our representatives call, when they say line up at the White House line up. With 3 plus million trucks out there and each one gave $20 to the cause we could make a difference.

  • Ray Garcia

    That’s right, that’s their goal!

  • quarter&company

    stand up and become an owner operator of small business. I probably don’t know what I am talking about but I do agree that big business is ruining this country and instead of using the knowledge they have learned being a business man and sharing this with another they only want control. Our persons in office don’t make a move unless big business says yes that is alright. I wonder how much stock our government officials have in health and insurance stock. Stock that is designed around their own personnel profit or portfolio. If Obama care is so good. How come it is the reason that a working person can’t find a good job. Small business built this country and I am sure we can take it back.

  • No Reform

    GESTAPO tactics…..Goons having fun harassing truckers because they have a Quota to fill. Do this driver…let me see that driver…here sign this driver…
    it sure does get OLD.

  • Jimmy the Greek

    You sound like a Swift slave !

  • Jimmy the Greek

    you got that right !

  • Didntdoit

    I would be second in line. I am tired of the cheap freight prices and tired of high maintainence and fuel cost and all the brokers that have all the freight and you cant get none of it. I would have to get me a load going that way cause I can’t afford the dead head that far empty. lol

  • RUB

    Great Article – sums it all up. I think parking our trucks for a month is a little drastic not to mention loss of income that could bankrupt most companies. With that said 2-5 days should suffice. we would need a huge response to make the impact. Pick a week and we all take vacations during that week. Remember all the Big Guys use Owner Ops for the line hauls. Local companies need to do the same. No Milk at the market is important wake up congress.

  • pinkfloyd

    Over the last few decades while hard working conservative people were providing for their families, liberals became entrenched in government. I use to think we could turn things around, but now I’m afraid it’s too late

  • Coffeeclue

    When will everyone stop complaining and start working smart instead of working hard? You don’t make enough money being an owner operator? Then don’t be one! I’m an owner operator and I book all my freight through the boards. I’m very selective as to where I go and how much I charge. I don’t complain about my income. There are plenty of owner operators that will jump on $1.25/mile loads, then blame liberals, communists and everyone else they can think of. When I actually talk to them about politics, all they know is the common rhetoric that Obama is bad with no support behind it. Just blame Obama. It’s his fault that they’re taking the cheap loads.

  • USMC 69-75

    Dolts like you, that believe in Barry, and everything is peachy and keen, but we’ll put the blame on the dead guy! Just like barry, still putting the blame for everything on GW after 5 years, get real Talk about uneducated…..better open thine eyes and see the real world…..Oh! and God’s last name isn’t dam either! A little thing called morals, ethics and respect! A little something else that libs fail to have.

  • USMC 69-75

    I’m afraid you are right 1! still pushing 40 +

  • USMC 69-75

    LOL…..I hear ya marty… you making it?

  • USMC 69-75

    DJ and they do this without buying fuel, paying high insurance, 2290’s etc etc….. must be nice!

  • USMC 69-75

    Yup! Guys like you will just keep on going, when others try to make a change for the better! It’s guys like you that pass by a broke down brother, won’t move over for safety sake, and will gladly reap the benefits of a possible successful shutdown, even though you fail you participate! So why don’t you shut your mouth and just go hold your steering wheel!

  • USMC 69-75

    The last real successful shut down was when Billy boy took the bird dogs out of the trucks in 93 or 94, before the internet and cell phones. Over 375,000 guy shut down in less than 3 days. Things started to get shaky, and billy boy told the media to stop reporting the impact, then we ended up going back to work, not knowing what was going on….looked like nobody was shutting down and everybody thru in the towel. If we had better organization we would still have radar detectors if you so chose! With today’s communications, it would be easy to organize and make a difference, but the backbone isn’t there anymore!

  • martymarsh

    Same old stuff just a different day, hows things with you, keeping busy?

  • martymarsh

    Now that is a fact, no back bone.

  • martymarsh

    Shut his mouth, who died and left you boss? Company butt kisser hey?

  • idontknowyou

    Yep – shut down your truck and cripple capacity so I can get more money for my loads. Thank you kind sir! When your family is wondering where their next meal is coming from I’ll be eating steak.

    Pull my truck over to help a “brother” out? What? You think I carry a machine shop and a parts department in my sleeper? WTH? I’m guessing he’s got a cell phone and is perfectly capable of calling the appropriate party for assistance. But you go ahead and pull over, creating a bigger crash risk. Though given your comments on wanting to have radar detectors in trucks I’m guessing safety isn’t a big deal to you.

  • idontknowyou

    Same guy that made the OP “angry dude” at anyone that succeeds in life. I don’t begrudge anyone success – no one makes me run freight and if I thought I could do better somewhere else or doing SOMETHING else I’m free to do so. So are you.

  • idontknowyou

    And you look like a cardiac arrest waiting to happen.

  • BigBoyButch

    No trouble from any Government started until these idiot, low life, scumbags started throwing pee jugs, bags of excrement and trash anywhere they felt like it! This brought the Trucking Industry to the forefront. How do we get these low life people to stop using America and other people’s property as their own waste dump? I have been an owner/operator with my own authority, truck and trailer going on 7 years now. I have seen it get worse out here each year. Truckers used to be respected and liked, but now since a handful of idiots drive and trash up the Country it is just the opposite. As far as re-classification as employee’s–in my opinion if you are leased on to a company, they find your loads, do your paperwork, licensing, pay your permits, etc, then you are an employee. I believe there are 3 criteria for defining an employee; 1) tell how to do the job, 2) what time to be there, 3) where to go. Leased on people meet all 3 criteria for being classified as an employee. If they want to be a “business person” and be an owner/operator, then let them be in control of their business! Do your own paperwork, find your own loads, and run under your own authority!

  • BigBoyButch

    I just wrote 2 comments and now they are gone?????????????

  • BigBoyButch

    My comments were there and then disappeared?? Talk about censorship…….

  • martymarsh

    I started out in the 70’s, if you see it then and then seen it now, with all of the rules and regulation, and all of the control companies have using resources like DAC, you wouldn’t be so happy, which happens to be a way of lying and it not come back on them.
    I read the complaints on all of the time and what this industry and Washington are doing to drivers has gone way past pathetic. I don’t know how long you have been driving, but trust me, nothing last forever, for a variety of reasons. One day things are going to change in your world and your going to shake your head and ask, what the heck just happened. So you think people don’t have legitimist

  • Bob

    I own 6 trucks. Times are very hard for the trucking industry. If we all just stuck together and shut down for a few days it would open the eyes of many. Enough talk about it. Let’s just do it and see what happens.

  • Jimmy the Greek

    One can’t live forever , I well soon be 62 , i can still kick start a flooed sportster ,and still take along trip on a riged frame , i still fight and rase all sorts of hell , so you take it for what it worth ,

  • Jimmy the Greek

    your a pice of work ! just thes last saterday i spent 3hrs helping a driver in moss point miss. get his reffer running , I have stoped and given a car hauller a ride to buy fuel jugs and fuel then drove him back to his rig and stayed untill he was up and running . 30 years ago you would have got your ass kicked and put into the back of a roadway truck for a ride to there next trem . It’s c#$k suckers like you that are screwing up trucking , FYI i run a rader detector in my truck ,my mustang, and my motorcycles ! I have had the tractor i am driving over 10 years and have never put a scrach on it not even on the cab extenders , So screw you !

  • USMC 69-75

    They have a name for NON drivers like you…..bottom feeders!

    You don’t know the first thing about trucking, safety, or being a
    professional! I see your kind everyday, just a bunch of wannabe, steering wheel holders! That can’t read apparently!As far as radar detectors, it ones choice (or should be) but you apparently are one of those dolts that think just because you have a radar detector you speeding? Shows just what you know about safe driving, also content on letting big brother continue controlling your simple mind, because you apparently don’t have the back bone to stand up for yourself! How’s swift treating ya? Pathetic!!!
    By the way, if there ever is another shut down, guarantee you’ll be the first one in the truck stop cowering in your bunk, calling your widdle dispatch, asking for help to get home!

  • USMC 69-75

    Good Job Jimmy! Thanks for helping those hands out!

  • USMC 69-75

    Yeah Marty, I remember and was proud to be a truck driver….”Knights of the road”! Now because of bottom feeders like this clown, I don’t admit to being a truck driver, but a business man, that just happens to own and drive a truck in my line of work!

  • USMC 69-75

    keeping busy, as long as I can keep the bottom feeding, cheap freight haulers away from my customers!!!!

  • martymarsh

    Now that is funny Marine, I use to do the same thing not admit it, it hasn’t been much to be proud for a long time now. But now that I deal in only the truth, I put it in their face, I don’t care what they think of me. Honor and integrity speaks for it’s self.

  • Jimmy the Greek

    Hell all one would have to do to shut him down , would be to switch his air lines , it would take road service to get him up and running , because i dont think he is smart enouf to figer out what is wrong lol

  • Samuel Deo

    It is time now for a national strike by the truckers. Unfortunate but necessary to stop this Dictatorship and pathetic system of putting decent people out of work through unfair and unrealistic rules and regulations.

  • mike jonz

    amen we need the ata and ooida to tag team this bs and basically give us right of free travel without harassment en route many inspections can be done pre or post trip not on the road where its dangerous to all.All many of these things are is makework for the commies who are lazy and dumb.The public says so what in the ‘name of supposed safety,we also need longer dot physical retake intervals ie 4 years how many fail it in two anyways?If uncle sams unsure send inspectors to close down shottie physical clinics.Fix problems where they exist not hiring more beauracrats that harasss.

  • USMC 69-75

    Now that is so true and I would love to watch road service come out and discover his problem!!!!!Way to go Jimmy!
    Or he’d be like that pumpkin driver I saved awhile back, and just drag it down the road till he caught on fire. The guy could even hardly speak English! Gone to heck in a hand basket for sure.

  • Mark Tipton

    Crazy as it may sound …

    It may sound like a bit much but the reality is that many programs are passed these days specifically to prohibit competition. While it may seem antithetical to “The American Way” the corporations win because they get to write their own laws inhibiting competition. The politicians (on both sides) win because it is easier to extort … I mean to deal with lobbyists from a few major corporate operations than it is to deal with thousands of “Mom and Pop” Owner-Operators.

  • steve4447

    The Giant Corporations get it their way…And because you will not
    organize and work together..well you get what you are getting every

    Have you forgotten what….”Doing the same thing the same way over and over again and expecting different results ..”….Is The definition of???

    If you like what you are getting…Just keep doing what you doing!…And
    if it makes you feel better about it…Sure you can call me names too..

  • Just tell me when!

    I like the way you guys think! Let’s park these trucks for 3 day’s!!! Just tell me when?

  • Jimmy the Greek

    90 day wonders is what a lot of them are ! lol

  • Jimmy the Greek

    Your Right ! They should save them for dumping in CALIFORNIA LOL .

  • steve4447

    What exactly have you done???

    Besides call names???

  • William McKelvie

    TEAMSTERS blocked the HOS roll back by blocking the Hanna Amendment. I would not want to be a teamster driver currently, not at all.

  • nomore4me

    There’s only one law this government needs to worry about: how to force drivers into trucking strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.