Surprise Move

Obama’s pick to head FMCSA garners praise and raises some eyebrows

In what is something of a surprise, President Obama last month tapped Anne Ferro as the new administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Ferro, the president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association since 2003, doesn’t seem to fit Obama’s call for “change.” And the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which threw its support behind Obama during the presidential campaign, was quick to let him know its disapproval. Teamsters President Jim Hoffa wrote in a letter to Obama that Ferro is the wrong person to head FMCSA because of her “trucking-industry party line.”

“We cannot support a candidate who represents the Bush administration ‘status quo’ rather than embracing your call for change,” Hoffa wrote.

But the nomination won praise from trucking groups such as the American Trucking Associations. As head of MMTA, Ferro supported the current hours-of-service rule. “Ms. Ferro’s extensive experience in promoting driver, vehicle and highway safety will serve the nation well,” ATA President Bill Graves said in a statement.

According to the White House, Ferro, who was the administrator of Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration between 1997 and 2003, has extensive experience in driver and vehicle safety. She led the Maryland agency’s campaign to implement a graduated licensing program for new drivers as well as a model for older driver research and garnered a “reputation as a tough but fair regulator,” Graves added.

While Ferro still has to be confirmed by the Senate, her nomination comes in the wake of another trucking issue that has ruffled the feathers of the Teamsters.

After killing funds to the U.S.-Mexico cross-border trucking program – and the Mexican government’s retaliatory tariffs on more than 80 U.S. goods – Obama promised to restart the program early this summer.

The Teamsters, along with some other trucking and safety advocates including the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, have opposed opening the border to Mexican trucks for years. If the Obama administration carries through with its pledge to reinvent the cross-border trucking program, it would appear on the surface to drive another wedge between the union’s supporters and the president.

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But there are still several other issues on which Obama could appease the Teamsters. These include the proposed Employee Free Choice Act or “card check,” potential new independent contractor classification legislation and the easing of federal oversight of the Teamsters, which Obama has previously hinted could happen.

Card check allows employees to sign an authorization card to gain union representation instead of or in addition to a secret ballot. This has been a controversial and hotly contested bill since it was introduced in the spring. Independent contractor classification legislation hasn’t gained a great deal of momentum as of late, but as a U.S. senator from Illinois, Obama sponsored a bill to revamp how independent contractors are classified.
Truckers News examined both issues in April.

As for easing federal oversight on unions, which was put into place to eliminate the influence of organized crime, Obama said during last year’s campaign that this is something he would consider but made no commitments.

“That’s something that I’ll absolutely examine when I’m president of the United States,” he told Good Morning America in response to a Wall Street Journal report that he privately told the Teamsters he would end federal oversight.

Conspiracy theories aside, Obama’s latest trucking-related moves set the stage for an interesting summer and beyond.

R.I.P. LauraLee
It was with great sadness that I received the news that LauraLee Fraley has died. She was a member of our 2006 Great American Trucking Family.

LauraLee was a team driver with her husband, Jimmy Fraley, and an amazing woman and friend to our staff since her family’s 2006 triumph. She often wrote me and former executive editor John Latta just to stay in touch and talk about all things trucking. Her cheerful, fun-loving personality was impossible to ignore. The last time I saw LauraLee and Jimmy was in 2007 at the Mid-America Trucking Show, when John and I had dinner with them. A few months later, LauraLee sent me an e-mail telling me that her cancer had returned after several years of remission.

Over the months, John and I each e-mailed her with words of encouragement. Often she was the one trying to offer us hope and enthusiasm. Near the end, LauraLee’s mother took over giving us updates as the cancer spread. We knew that things didn’t look good but hoped for a miracle.

We find solace in knowing that she was a special person who had a positive impact on everyone she came in contact with. Maybe that’s a miracle in itself.

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