‘A line in the sand’: Truckers plan organized protest in D.C.

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Updated Apr 28, 2023

The Truckers Movement for Justice (TMJ) organization’s roots date back to a failed union organizing drive that began with New Jersey port truckers in 2007 and lasted through early 2009. While the move to unionize failed, what survived was a group of truck drivers, including TMJ founder Billy Randel, who formed the group with an eye toward organizing operators across the country.

Randel, a company driver for much of his career and a self-described labor organizer for more than five decades, was mostly retired from his organizing efforts until, in 2021, he was contacted to see if he would lead another campaign.

“This time, we took a different approach because we learned from the mistakes drivers have made for the last 40 years,” Randel said. “Our approach is mass-based, across the whole industry -- small carriers, owner-ops, company drivers. One organization designed to reach an agreement with the industry ... a national agreement to set standards for wages for company drivers, standards for minimum to the truck, home time. Quality of life in general.”

Randel said the group’s three main goals are:

“Pay us for our time, all of our time,” Randel said. “Why do we work and don’t get paid when we sit at a loading dock? Why do we not get paid for driving deadhead miles to pick up a load? We want to get paid for every minute of our time. We’re ruled by the ELD or paper logs, why can’t we get paid?”

[Related: ‘I know I’m going to get hurt’: Small fleet owner leads boycott of TQL]

Regarding transparency into freight charges when working with brokers, Randel said he “can count on my hands how many drivers have ever seen a shipper’s bill of freight to be able to negotiate a fair rate,” adding that he’s not talking about the carrier getting 100% of what the shipper’s paying the broker, but having the transparency into the financial transaction to be able to fairly negotiate.

Randel said he felt operators of all stripes have lost their power in the industry by failing to organize, and TMJ’s mission is to “take back our power.”

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On Monday, May 1, TMJ is permitted to stage a protest at the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, D.C. Randel said it’s time for truck drivers “to draw a line in the sand” and stick together to get what they need. Trucks are not permitted for the May 1 protest.

“I’m going to have a five-gallon bucket of dirt with me, and a stick, and I’m going to pour the dirt on the sidewalk in front of DOT, and I’m going to draw a line in it,” Randel said. “We’re going to cross over the line, and we’re never going to go back again. We’ve had enough.”

Randel said he’s spoken with DOT officials about the protest, and he was asked if he would meet with them. He responded by saying every driver that is there will meet with them, or if that’s not acceptable, the drivers will pick a delegation to go in. Randel noted, however, he doesn’t expect a meeting to happen on May 1.

“We do expect it to take place in the near future once the next round of battles begin,” he said. “This is a war. It’s not going to be over very quickly. It’s going to take years, but it has to begin. People are losing their livelihoods,” he said in reference to owner-operators and small fleets going out of business given current market and other pressures.

[Related: CDL Drivers Unlimited, a new advocacy/support organization, makes first push]

One goal with TMJ, he said, is to prove to everyone -- truck drivers, carriers, regulators, brokers and more -- that truck drivers can actually organize. “We’ve staged strikes and protests, but never won anything,” he said. “Because it’s not organized… If it’s organized, it’s not going to go away. It’s going to keep going, keep growing.”

Randel said TMJ has operators within its membership in about 40 states currently, with more continuing to join. “More and more [drivers] are tired; our backs are against the wall.” Anyone interested in the movement can reach out to Randel via email.

The May 1 protest is approved to have 200 people, and Randel said he “would have been quite happy to see that.” After recent meetings with TMJ members, however, he said he expects well more than that.

Randel added there will also be non-trucking supporters at the protest, including the Railroad Workers United "caucus" of union and non-union rail workers. In a letter of support, RWU said TMJ “has the full support and backing of RWU. ... Truckers and railroaders face similar issues and struggles, and we are aligned against a common adversary in the logistics industry. We support TMJ’s worthy goals of winning a better quality of life for truckers.”

Ultimately, Randel said truck drivers across the board -- whether company drivers, owner-operators or small fleet owners -- are “starving now, so now we’re going to fight.”

“As I told the feds last week on a call with senior management with DOT, we carry you on our backs, and our backs are breaking. That is not how it’s supposed to be,” he said.

[Related: AB 5 protests: California officials don't get it, or just don't care]

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