Election could affect trucking labor law

Barack Obama had sponsored a bill that could change how independent contractors, such as owner-operators, are classified.

The election of Barack Obama and the addition of at least five Democratic seats in the Senate on Nov. 4 put Democrats within striking distance of major changes in employment laws affecting the trucking industry.

Among those is a measure that would make it much easier for labor unions to gain a foothold in a company and another that could change independent contractor classification.

The Employee Free Choice Act would require the certification of a union at a non-union company if the union obtains a card check of a majority of employees in the bargaining group. The measure passed the House of Representatives in 2007 on a party-line vote and had the support of all Democrats in the Senate. Opponents have raised numerous objections, arguing especially that denying employees the right to a secret ballot would lead to intimidation.

Despite support from a majority in both houses of Congress, the Employee Free Choice Act had no chance of becoming law. Democrats in the Senate were unable to gain the necessary 60 votes to kill a filibuster, and President Bush would have vetoed the legislation anyway if Congress had managed to pass it.

Now Republicans have lost one “firewall” – the presidency – and have a much smaller margin for enforcing a filibuster. But Republicans apparently will deny Democrats the all-important 60-vote majority.

President-elect Obama sponsored another bill – the Independent Contractor Proper Classification Act – that would authorize the Treasury Department to issue new criteria for determining independent contractor classification. Whistleblower protections would be imposed to encourage disgruntled owner-operators to contest classification. That legislation did not make it past the Senate Finance Committee.
– Avery Vise

FMCSA sticks with hours rule; recorder regs pending
The regulations governing hours of service apparently won’t change – at least not until the next round of litigation or any reconsideration initiated by the Obama administration.

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published in the Federal Register last month a final rule adopting the provisions of its Dec. 17, 2007, interim final rule on hours of service. The agency issued the December 2007 IFR to hold current regulations in place pending a reconsideration ordered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Under the final rule, truckers may continue to drive up to 11 hours within a 14-hour workday, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. Drivers may continue to restart calculations of the weekly on-duty limits after at least 34 consecutive hours off duty.

The appeals court noted in its July 2007 opinion that it was vacating the rule strictly on the procedural grounds raised by Public Citizen and its allies. With those flaws presumably fixed, Public Citizen could now challenge the 11th hour of driving and the 34-hour restart on their merits.

“This rule was designed to continue the downward trend in truck fatalities and maintain motor carrier operational efficiencies,” said FMCSA Administrator John Hill. The most recent review of the rule did not consider a revision of the split sleeper berth provisions because that was not part of what the appeals court addressed, he said.

Other regulatory developments were pending at press time:

  • The U.S. Department of Transportation on Nov. 10 sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget a draft final rule regarding electronic onboard recorders. Details will not be known until OMB completes its review and FMCSA publishes it in the Federal Register. In January 2007, FMCSA proposed to require EOBRs on all trucks operated by carriers that had a record of serious non-compliance with hours of service.
  • On Nov. 3, DOT sent to OMB the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s regulation concerning reduced stopping distance for tractors equipped with air brake systems.
  • FMCSA published in the Federal Register a notice rescinding its policy regarding use of carriers’ advanced technology for compliance purposes. A 1997 memorandum limited use of such technology in compliance reviews and enforcement on the grounds that the government didn’t want to stifle emerging technologies, but now such technologies are commonplace.

– Avery Vise

DOT report: Mexican trucks operate safely
Independent evaluators of the federal cross-border trucking program with Mexico positively reviewed its safety measures, but said the analysis was based on an insufficient number of carriers to make a significant comparison between participants and applicants.

On Nov. 6, the Department of Transportation released the Independent Evaluation Panel on the Cross Border Truck Demonstration Project.

Twenty-nine Mexican carriers were granted long-haul authority instead of the 100 the agency had projected would participate. Of the 29, two carriers dropped out and two never entered the United States.

By the end of the project’s first year, Sept. 6, Mexican carrier participants made more than 12,000 truck crossings into the United States. Less than 15 percent of these entries went beyond the border commercial zone. The remaining crossings were within the commercial zones, mostly in Texas and California.

The evaluators in the year-long project were former DOT secretary Mortimer L. Downey III, recent DOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead and former Arizona congressman James Kolbe.

“Those measures have effectively shown that U.S. and Mexican carriers can safely engage in cross-border trucking operations while providing U.S. drivers new opportunities to compete and succeed in a market where they previously were unable to operate,” the department said.

Originally, 700 Mexican carriers expressed interest in the project. U.S. and Mexican officials said participation was limited over uncertainty whether the operating authority granted to carriers in the project would continue and additional insurance costs.

They reported no Mexican carrier participants were involved in crashes and less than 1 percent of driver safety inspections resulted in out-of-service violations.
– Jill Dunn

Scientists say technology could slash fuel usage
By using off-the-shelf technology, owners of long range tractor trailers could reduce fuel consumption per unit up to 12 percent annually, or 2,000 gallons, reduce emissions and realize a profit of as much as $30,000 per truck over the first eight years of ownership, says a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Retrofitting used tractors and trailers as old as 12 years with a full package of fuel-saving technologies could still produce unidentified net savings for individual owners, the report said. For fleet owners with an average of 2.5 trailers per tractor, a full technology package could yield savings for equipment up to 6 years old.

The report used an average fuel price of $3.24 over the past two years and estimated that tractor-trailers ran about 130,000 miles annually and achieved 6 to 6.5 mpg.

“We need these strategies to protect our environment and boost the economy at the same time,” said Don Anair, senior analyst in the UCS clean vehicles program and author of the report by the non-profit group.

A full fuel-efficient technology package could include aerodynamic trucks with a sloped hood and full roof fairing, wide-single tires, trailer side skirts or side panels that cover gaps between wheels and rear-trailer fairings, the report said.

The cost of spec’ing or retrofitting fuel-saving equipment is a major problem for many truck owners. Anair acknowledged that the economy is a primary issue these days, but said “that using a full package of this technology, the investment will pay back in as little as two years or less.”
– Max Kvidera

NTSB wants electronic on-board data recorders
The National Transportation Safety Board’s 2009 Federal Most Wanted List of safety improvements includes mandating electronic on-board data recorders.

For more than 30 years, the NTSB has advocated EOBR to increase hours-of-service compliance and collect more accurate data on accident collisions. It says the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recorder proposal is not applicable to all operators regulated by HOS regs, does not establish the proper incentives or create a level playing field for compliance.

Also high on the highway safety category list was improving motor carrier safety operations in the area of vehicle safety and qualified drivers, although the NTSB said the FMCSA was making slow but acceptable progress.

The board also urged the FMCSA to ratchet up efforts to stop medically unqualified drivers from operating commercial vehicles. This issue was debated in a heated U.S. House transportation committee meeting earlier this year. The board said the agency has made unacceptable progress on driver medical condition and requiring EOBR.
– Jill Dunn

Forecast low diesel prices for 2009
The Department of Energy changed its 2009 diesel-price forecast from a projected average $3.91 to $2.73 in mid-November as fuel prices crashed, following a nearly 50 percent drop in crude prices.

“With a weak economy continuing through most of 2009, along with lower projected crude oil prices,” the agency said, prices could be expected to remain low through the year.

That’s good news for trucking and the upcoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

In a Nov. 18 conference call organized by the Oil Price Information Service, Guy Caruso, outgoing administrator of DOE’s Energy Information Administration, discussed Obama’s energy policy intentions.

Caruso said Obama has four major energy objectives: bolstering energy security through greater independence, passing cap-and-trade legislation to reduce emissions, creating an abundance of “green jobs” and providing consumer relief from high fuel prices through commodities markets regulatory reform. The last item is the one likely to be acted upon first, he said.

The dramatic run-ups in the price of diesel last year were led in part by excessive speculation in the oil market; a check against this kind of speculative bubble seems to be on the way, said Dan Gilligan, president of the Petroleum Marketers Association of America. “Leadership in both the Senate and House are committed to doing futures market reform,” he said.
– Todd Dills

Volvo takes engine data analysis to new level
Truck makers “traditionally handle fuel economy through the hard products,” said Scott Kress, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Volvo Trucks North America. Speaking at a recent press event at Volvo’s headquarters in Greensboro, N.C., he said Fuelwatch reflects a more thorough approach.

Launched in August, the program goes beyond designing and spec’ing vehicles for optimum fuel economy to include maintenance, performance monitoring and driver behavior factors.
An integral part of Fuelwatch is the data that Volvo Trucks has collected since 2001. This Logged Vehicle Data resides in the engine’s electronic control module and gets updated each time a vehicle undergoes a diagnostic or reprogramming event. LVD captures a wide range of information, including mileage, operating hours, engine rpm, fuel use and any set customer parameters, such as governed speed.

Fuelwatch uses the Volvo Link fleet management tool to identify exceptions in a vehicle’s performance and LVD to help carriers pinpoint maintenance and driver practices that impact fuel efficiency. In the program’s final phase, to start in 2010, carriers will be able to use Fuelwatch to compare a single vehicle against the rest of the fleet, and their fleet against a large population of similar vehicles in similar operations.
– Linda Longton

Volvo, Mack to remanufacture DPFs in Pennsylvania
Volvo Trucks North America and Mack Trucks have launched a program at the Middletown Remanufacturing Center in Middletown, Pa. to remake diesel particulate filters.

DPFs use ceramic filter elements to trap and contain particulates in engine exhaust reducing them to a fine ash. It must be cleaned from the filter element, usually every few hundred thousand miles.

The DPFs are remanufactured to more than 90 percent of their original capacity. In the process, a vacuum removes ash and contaminants as air blows across the filter. Filters with a lot of oil or particulate buildup are baked in ovens to further reduce ash and contaminants.
– Staff Reports

Investors buying Greatwide
Greatwide Logistics Services, a Dallas-based provider of transportation logistics and management services, said it has agreed to be acquired by an investor group.

The transaction is being completed under Section 363 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Greatwide said other parties can submit better offers to buy the company under the court-supervised process. If not, the transaction will close early next year.

Proposed buyers are Greatwide’s first lien secured lenders, including affiliates of Centerbridge Capital Partners and the D. E. Shaw group. They plan to provide $73.6 million in debtor-in-possession financing to fund the business during the 363 sale process.

Greatwide said the transaction will enable it to complete a financial restructuring of the company, while reducing its debt and interest payments.

If completed, the transaction will buy out existing Greatwide owners.

Greatwide’s businesses include distribution logistics, transportation management, freight brokerage and dedicated transport. Dedicated transport relies on mostly owner-operators running about 6,000 tractors and 5,000 trailers.
– Max Kvidera

CARB to vote on stricter diesel exhaust regulations
California will vote Dec. 11 on new regulations that will start with a phased-in schedule requiring diesel engine exhaust retrofits in 2010 and engine replacement in 2012 for trucks doing business in California. The California Air Resources Board’s draft proposal is online.

“This is the only way the state can meet the cleaner federal standards,” says Erik White, who heads CARB’s heavy diesel in-use strategies branch.

The proposals will affect anyone who operates or sells a truck within the state, regardless of residency. All diesel trucks with a gross vehicle weight of more than 14,000 pounds and all diesel shuttle buses are affected.

The particulate filters are expected to cost $10,000 to $12,000. Financial programs for truckers include funds available through the Carl Moyer program, the state’s Proposition 1B and Assembly Bill 118. This help is limited to trucks with California plates, but may change in future years, White said.

Fleets with four or more vehicles will require exhaust retrofits in 2010 and 2011 and engine or vehicle replacement by 2012 to 2022. Three compliance options will be available and fleets can comply by buying used vehicles. For these fleets, a retrofit will be required for pre-1994 engines and 2003 to 2006 diesel engines.

Fleets with three or fewer vehicles would be exempt from these initial retrofit requirements. But by Dec. 31, 2012, these fleets would have to show they have at least one 2004 or newer vehicle with an exhaust retrofit. In 2017 the vehicle would need to be replaced with one meeting 2010 engine emissions. Any other vehicles in a small fleet would need to be upgraded between 2013 and 2023.

More information is available at CARB’s diesel hotline at (866)-634-3735 or at www.arb.ca.gov/dieseltruck.
– Jill Dunn

Navistar sticks with 2010 engine solution
Despite the decision of all other North American heavy-duty engine suppliers to adopt selective catalytic reduction, Navistar Truck and Engine Group says it still plans to offer “in-cylinder” diesel engine emissions solutions for the North American market in 2010.

Navistar’s 2007-compliant big bore MaxxForce engines are in limited production at its Huntsville, Ala., plant.

Timothy Shick, Navistar’s director of marketing for Navistar’s Engine Group, says the company will use its banked Environmental Protection Agency emissions credits to buy the time necessary to calibrate its engines to achieve the agency’s demands for oxides of nitrogen reductions. Navistar received credits for earlier-than-required compliance and lower-than-required emissions performance dating back to the first exhaust gas recirculation engines marketed by the company in 2004.

“All Navistar MaxxForce engines will be emissions-compliant for 2010, just as they are today,” Shick says. If they weren’t, we couldn’t sell them. Some Navistar engines are currently emitting emissions below required 2007 levels, and the EPA encourages and rewards this performance.”

In effect, Shick says Navistar’s early good performance in the emissions arena has bought the Warrenville, Ill.-based company time to tinker with and optimize the emissions performance of its in-cylinder solution without relying on urea-based selective catalytic reduction to neutralize NOx in the exhaust stream as other North American engine suppliers will be doing.

In Navistar’s solution, a high-pressure, common-rail fuel injection system delivers diesel in a finer mist and with improved sequencing to allow for a more efficient fuel burn, Shick said. The MaxxForce’s high-strength compact graphite iron engine block is designed to handle the higher pressures.
– Jack Roberts

36 finalists compete for Road Team slots
Finalists for the American Trucking Associations’ annual America’s Road Team await a Jan. 11-13 competition in Arlington, Va., where winners will be chosen. Members of the trucking industry and news media will judge finalists on their knowledge, safety records and ability to communicate.

Contest winners advocate publicly for two years on safety and other issues important in the trucking industry.

Finalists are Julian Alexander, Sr., Ernie Arnote, Willie Atkinson, Roger Bast, Mark Bigalk, Travis Boardman, Bobby Brown, Gerald Charron, Ron Coles, Tim Dean, Rich Ewing, John Foran, Danny Fuller, James Gallagher, James Galloway, Paul Gattin, Steve Gilbert, Mike Gilstrap, Ronald Hawkins, Jr., Mark Hassemer, David Herring, Barry Holland, Edward Hosegood, Keith Johnson, Gary Leu, Perry Mecum, Greg Nauertz, Kurt Pedersen, Ronald Raney, J.W. Ray, Donald Robinson, Wendell “Al” Russell, Ben Saiz, Frank Silio, Jeffrey Thompson and Ronald VanBibber.
– Staff Reports

OOIDA protests Quebec speed-limiter plan
Quebec will begin requiring speed limiters set to 65 mph for heavy trucks starting Jan. 1, a move denounced by the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association.

OOIDA says it is ready to file a Notice of Intent to Submit a Claim to Arbitration for breach of Canada’s obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement if it becomes effective.

OOIDA accused Julie Boulet, Quebec’s transportation minister, of reneging on her word. Last Dec. 13, Boulet had said Quebec would not implement the mandate until Transport Canada completed studies on effectiveness of speed limiters and all other provinces had agreed to similar mandates.

Transport Canada released its studies last spring, which indicated the speed reduction would decrease greenhouse gas and save fuel, but that the action’s safety implications were not as solid. Ontario has also passed the mandate.

At least 60 percent of heavy North American truck fleets use speed-control devices and as many as 77 percent of all North American trucks are equipped with them, the study said.

In 2005, the Canadian Trucking Alliance asked federal and provincial governments to mandate speed limiters on all heavy trucks to no more than 105 kilometers per hour, or about 65 mph.

American Trucking Associations supports electronic speed governors at 65 mph or slower on big trucks built since 1992.
– Jill Dunn

TRANSPORTATION FATALITIES in the United States decreased 4 percent in 2007 from 2006, according to preliminary figures from the National Transportation Safety Board. The 802 fatalities from heavy- or medium-duty truck accidents accounted for 1.9 percent of highway fatalities in 2007 and were down slightly from 805 fatalities in 2006.

PILOT OPENED a new travel center in Atalissa, Iowa, off I-80 at exit 265. The 4,500-square-foot facility includes 11 diesel islands, Chester’s Chicken, Austin BBQ, an ATM, bakery, grill, a CAT scale and four showers.

TRUCK TONNAGE as measured by the American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 0.9 percent in September, marking the third consecutive month-to-month drop. The index fell 1.6 percent in August and 0.9 percent in July. In September, the seasonally adjusted tonnage index equaled its lowest level since October 2007.

PRESIDENT’S TROPHY winners from American Trucking Associations’ Safety & Loss Prevention Management Council went to Roehl Transport, Central Freight Lines and CLI Transport. The honors are chosen based on safety records. The North Carolina Trucking Association received the Excellence in Safety Award, and Roehl Transport received the Excellence in Human Resource Management Award.

TRUCK STOPS and rest areas are the most targeted locations for cargo thefts, accounting for more than one-third of all incidents, based on statistics compiled by the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies. The study also shows that consumer electronics, food and clothing are the three most stolen cargoes. The thefts occur most often during the weekend.

AN ARKANSAS freight broker recently was sentenced to 51 months in prison in connection with a scheme to defraud interstate carriers entitled to freight fees, according to the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General’s Office. John D. Russell, a commercial freight broker and forwarder, was sentenced Oct. 20 in U.S. District Court in Fort Smith, Ark. In addition to prison time, Russell also was sentenced to three years’ supervised release and ordered to pay $165,712 to about 15 victims.

GAINEY CORP. announced a Chapter 11 reorganization filing in response to a $238 million lawsuit filed Sept. 26 by Wachovia Bank concerning loans it made to the company.

ALAN BERMAN TRUCKING, a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based mail hauling company, paid $825,000 in back wages to 80 current and former drivers, resolving a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor. The company and its principals are also barred from government contracts for three years.

GEORGIA. The Georgia Department of Transportation has the green light to begin work to relieve congestion on the connector road between U.S. 411/State Route 20 and I-75 linking Atlanta and Memphis. The Federal Highway Administration signed off on environmental documentation required for federally funded roads.

ILLINOIS. The Toll Highway Authority was scheduled to vote Nov. 20 on a plan to increase truck tolls beginning in 2015. Commercial rates would rise to $6.40 from $4 for trucks with five or more axles. Higher tolls would help pay for a $1.8 billion capital plan to add “green lanes” and build interchanges.

NEVADA. The Nevada Department of Transportation has closed indefinitely Boomtown Truck Stop, west of Reno on I-80. Parking is not available on I-80 or at Boomtown during Donner Pass snow closures. Commercial vehicle parking near Reno is limited, say transportation department officials. They urge truck drivers to use truck stop and parking facilities east of Fernley during snow closures.

VIRGINIA. Repairs lasting more than two years were completed last month on the Big Walker Mountain and East River Mountain tunnels of I-77 near the West Virginia border. The $16 million in maintenance included replaced wall and tiles, fixed leaks and repaired concrete.

WYOMING. Through April 15, the state is dropping its speed limit from 75 to 65 mph for all traffic on I-80 from Laramie to Rawlins. The state says it is reducing the speed limit during the winter because the area is prone to blizzard-like conditions and fatal crashes. Officials say they are installing variable speed limit message boards along the 52-mile stretch.

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