Monday round-up: MATS hours session descends to chaos, truckers plan D.C. return

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The final day of the Mid-America Trucking Show saw a contingent of around 20 or so people monopolize what Joe Delorenzo, director of the FMCSA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance, hoped would be a discussion and clarification of some of the lesser-known pieces of the hours of service rule. Judging from his slides, he was set to call out and emphasize a variety of exceptions that currently exist to help address difficult on-highway situations, such as they might exist. (The adverse-conditions extension, for instance, personal conveyance, a 16-hour maximum duty day for every five 14-hour days for haulers returning to their home terminal daily, among others.)

Delorenzo didn’t get to most of his presentation, however, as much of the session was dominated by … what else? The 1-2-3 punch of complaints of an inflexible hours rule logged via electronic logging devices, uncompensated and over-extended delays at shippers and receivers, and the much-less-than-ideal parking situation on the roadways. In essence, as Delorenzo noted at the top of the seminar for the prying eyes of those in the room and multiple smartphone cameras live-streaming the seminar to Facebook and other corners of the Internet, the regulator hoped to move past the issues aired in the prior day’s listening session with the new FMCSA chief, Administrator Ray Martinez, and on to a more practical discussion of the current rule. However, he did say, “this is your time, not mine,” perhaps opening the door for what emerged from the aforementioned contingent of truckers, many of whom were involved in the October anti-ELD mandate demonstrations and have been frustrated in varying degrees by ongoing attempts to engage the Trump administration’s FMCSA.

“What we have is we have people who don’t know what it’s like in terms of the real life of trucking” regulating the industry, generally, said small fleet owner and Independent Carrier Group head Scott Jordan of Peculiar, Mo., among leaders within the Operation Black and Blue demonstration last year who met with Delorenzo and other FMCSA officials at DOT headquarters at the time.

Jordan went on to question why the largest fleets in the nation aren’t investigated more than they are, given the volume of crashes and fatalities involving trucks are on the rise, and he said the agency had not followed through on its promise of a follow-up meeting with the groups after October, despite attempts to reconnect. “We want to come and meet with you” to present the reality of what he called “the little guys,” as recognized stakeholders in the business of trucking.

Jordan ended a brief round of back and forth with Delorenzo, as the regulator again attempted to turn the conversation back to the hours of service rule, with a dismissive “take it easy, folks,” to the rest of the room. “They will not listen to us,” Jordan said. He then walked out as a melee of commentary too chaotic to detail here ensued.

Jordan’s bit of seeming theater — though Scott Reed, a former owner-operator who now works with Jordan in his Trucking for Profit independent dispatching effort for owner-ops, told me later Jordan walked out simply to avoid his own frustration from boiling over too far in public — let loose no small amount of similar commentary from the group up front. Dave McCauley held forth at length, with Reed, John Grosvenor and others urging him at times to not let his emotion get the best of him, the lot of it difficult to discern as drivers talked over each other. At one point, Grosvenor noted, “We can’t let our our emotions get ahead of ourselves. We’re chasing people out of here.”

The scene: multiple seminar attendees in the front standing, arguing with Delorenzo and each other, several holding their smartphones high in a modern-day listening-session version of mugging for the cameras, so to speak.

The rest of the room (the large majority of it) offered murmurs and statements of agreement with some of the messages (those few that could be heard from where we were sitting) but increasingly turned toward a different feeling of frustration. (Early on in the melee, the owner-operator couple sitting next to me walked out, to Grosvenor’s point, shaking their heads at the scene.)

And with around half of the session’s scheduled time over and done with, as Delorenzo made a next-to-last-ditch attempt to return to the topic at hand, and just before most of the loudest at the front of the room followed Jordan’s example and walked out, a big round of applause issued forth. As was clear to me, but perhaps not to the groups up front, this round of applause was not for grandstanding and disruptive argumentation. It was not applause for truckers fighting and arguing amongst themselves. It was not for walking out on an opportunity to engage in a civil conversation in what is a nation of laws and rules that can change, but as Delorenzo emphasized, don’t get changed at the drop of a hat (or in the time it takes to send a live feed of yourself pontificating on the fact that the American Trucking Associations doesn’t represent you to Facebook).

They clapped for the prospects of completing or at least getting back to a task at hand — engaging in civil discussion over issues, asking questions, getting answers and/or clarifications, and generally going about the business of being alive in a civil society that cannot function without dialogue, back and forth, give and take, cannot function when everyone is talking past one another or just not listening at all.

Here’s hoping it all doesn’t harm the potential of a willing ear at FMCSA and/or in Congress for those who care — for my money, at least through Saturday, I believe the agency is finally at least well aware of issues within the hours of service rule for owner-operators and truckers of all stripes. Whether they’ll in fact act on them is another story.

Regarding the session, at once, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association board member owner-operator Tilden Curl emphasized in conversation with me today the reality of the deep pockets that to date have been monopolizing FMCSA’s and Congress’ attention to trucking for so long. “It does seem too that the FMCSA or our lawmakers or whoever, the largest lobbying groups have their attention, and that’s about it. It seems like the small working man doesn’t get heard anymore, even if they get the chance to speak,” he says. “It’s all about the constituency of the dollar. … I don’t know how we will get hold of our rules in our industry until we can depend on our government representing the people instead of the dollar. … I’ve said for a long time, the only thing that will compete with the dollar is a unified, large, loud voice.”

So, perhaps, one might view the session in terms of the old adage that says the more squeaky the wheels the more the grease is applied in their direction.

Groups plan return to D.C.

Members of the “Monday Information” Facebook group, which regular readers will recall grew out of the Dec. 4 anti-ELD mandate “media blitz” events that took place on Monday, Dec. 4, around the nation last year, were among the truckers described above — Charles Claburn, Lee and Lisa Schmitt, McCauley and others were in attendance. As Delorenzo acknowledged his own awareness of during the Saturday session, that group and others among truckers are planning a return to Washington D.C. in the coming weeks. They’re promoting April 9 as the day when trucks and truckers return to various points in the nation’s capitol, including Constitution Avenue between the Washington Monument and the White House.

The point? Keeping issues in the heads of lawmakers and regulators, of a piece with pressure-cooker dynamics on offer in both the Friday MATS listening session with Administrator Martinez and the Saturday hours of service seminar that went awry, described above.

Nothing much has changed following the October demonstrations, the groups contend, including FMCSA’s willingness to engage long-term with them. As other groups (with some of the same membership) did before, emphasis on issues around the ELD mandate, the hours of service, parking, detention, training and more is sure to be front and center. Those wishing to get involved with it all can find some info via the group’s website, MondayInformation.com, and/or various and sundry other informal groups and networks online.

Owner-operator Mike Landis, whom regular readers will recall from his narrative tour through his participation in the October events, is planning to be there, he says, with a growing contingent of haulers similar in character to the group he separated off with on Constitution Avenue last October. Monday, “April 9 is the start date,” he says. “A few of us have some meetings set up on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — there’s a lot of different groups with different ideas and agendas,” but he feels like, ultimately, all will come together as one “once we get there.”

Landis encourages truckers of all stripes to participate, should they choose, whether company drivers or owner-operators, whether with their bobtail tractor or not. “If you lean on the FMCSA long enough,” he believes, there is at least some chance of getting them “on our side. Help them understand where we’re coming from, and things can get done.”

Landis believes this may be “our last chance,” he says, to make a big statement with numbers and at least some message clarity as the “the ball gets rolling two weeks from now. If it’s a bust, we’ll have to take whatever’s coming down the pike. I don’t like to think that way, but I feel like it’s now or never before this thing gets too far” set in stone, before ELDs and all the associated issues become the new normal.

From his point of view at least, the effort seems to be shaping up for greater participation than the last.

Here’s Landis’ personal call to truckers he posted on his Facebook profile just this weekend:

Myself and a group of some very good and dedicated truckers are asking you to join us in Washington, D.C., the week of April 9. We are going back to help take our industry back and get it where it needs to be. We have been over-regulated and ignored for too long. This has to to stop. We went there in October, and we were told they would take into consideration what we had told them. They obviously didn’t, so back we go.

This is not just about e-logs. We have meetings set up throughout the week to talk about e-logs, hours of service, training (or lack thereof, as it seems anymore), mega-carriers and how they are self-insured, etc. We need numbers, a strong turnout. Just the presence of a large group standing behind us shows solidarity. We were flat-out told in October we needed a strong following and showing of people to make a difference. They can’t ignore big numbers. Heck, bring your family along, veterans and servicemen and -women, too! The time is now. With the hard enforcement of ELDs coming upon us and the threats of autonomous trucks and the simple fact we have been publicly called out and scrutinized by the very people who claim to represent trucking, it’s time to let them hear us.

This is not just about owner-operators, it’s about anyone who drives a truck for a living, it’s about American people in general being walked on and not taken into consideration. They will be the ones who suffer when retail prices go up. It’s time to unite as one. Everyone has different ideas or opinions. Who really knows what is the right answer, but I believe that it will be found when everyone comes together. No bashing each other, no personal agendas. It’s obvious that most of us agree that we have problems in this industry and in this country itself. The fact they keep handing out exemptions to the ag and livestock industry proves they know [the rules are] flawed.

If you’re someone that doesn’t believe in this or that it will work or that we are crazy or stupid for trying, well, that’s your right to feel that way. Fortunately, we live in a free-enough country where we can do this kind of thing. I personally don’t care what anyone else thinks, and neither should you. Stand up for something, help be a part of a solution, not just a sheep following the herd and saying, “Well, that’s what they said we are supposed to do, so I guess we need to comply.” Wrong answer! Who are they to even come up with any rules we should follow — none of them have anywhere near the experience and time behind the wheel doing what we do.

So please, for yourself, your fellow drivers, and for the citizens of this nation come and join us in Washington D.C., on the week of April 9 and help show these people that we are somebody, that we matter, and that we are tired of being run over by them. If we don’t I hate to think what this industry and country will become.

You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything!

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