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An exchange of letters

Let us examine, for a moment, a statement on Facebook attributed to America’s Road Team, an outreach program of the American Trucking Associations.

The post was a response to a letter from OOIDA to President Trump requesting that he meet with truckers about their concerns.

(OOIDA has officially responded on the Association’s Facbook page.)

In OOIDA’s letter, the Association points out that OOIDA represents 160,000 small-business truckers, and that the small business segment of the industry represents 96 percent of registered motor carriers. In fact, that percentage is an ATA figure, and it represents the percentage of motor carriers who have 20 or fewer trucks.

It talks about the president’s positive statements regarding truckers and his record of rolling back regulations. However, it also speaks about the many truckers who feel that, even though they voted for the president, they do not think he has been responsive to their greatest concerns, especially in the regulatory area.

In that spirit, the letter asks for a meeting. 

ATA’s response – which is attributed to America’s Road Team and posted on the team’s Facebook page – was a direct attack on OOIDA.

So let me address some of the claims made in that attack.

For the record, OOIDA never said anyone was not a "real trucker," never once in the letter did the Association use the word "fake," (which ATA's response put in quotes, which to those of us who write for a living means someone actually said or wrote it, which they did not) and OOIDA has never, ever endorsed or in any way encouraged violence of any kind. Quite the opposite.

(For the picky among us, Todd Spencer did use the word “fake” in a tweet on his personal Twitter feed, referring to the ATA executives, not the drivers. But the letter did not.)

The Association has made a point of promoting truckers speaking out in a responsible manner.

The Association did not make a “threat” to the president or anyone else. (Notice the quote marks? Because ATA actually wrote that. That’s how that works.) The letter stated something we have heard from hundreds of members who have called in about the issue.

One of the basic logical fallacies they teach in high school debate is what's called a "straw man argument." That’s where you make an outrageous statement that your opponents never said, attribute it to your opponent and then tear the statement down as a way to discredit your opponent. This is a classic example. If anyone there has trouble understanding that, I know an excellent high school debate teacher who has coached several students to nationals and who I'm sure would be glad to help.

OOIDA's letter was nothing more than a professionally worded request that the president speak to truckers he has not spoken with – something they and the Association that represents them – have a right to do under the First Amendment, which says citizens have the right to petition their government for redress of grievances.

For my part, let me say this: I have enormous respect for the truckers who are part of America’s Road Team. I have met many of them and find them to be professional, good, decent people. No one here has any interest in insulting them or any intention to do so.

However, I would say the same thing about the many truckers I have met who are OOIDA members, but in this building and elsewhere. Yet Chris Spear, the president of ATA, called those very truckers “amateur hour advocacy groups” that “believe they know what’s best for our industry.” (Again, quote marks, because he said that in a news release from his organization.)

We’ve also seen Mr. Spear’s organization say the only reason to oppose ELDs was if you wanted to keep cheating – in essence, calling them all lawbreakers.

Let me ask all of you behind the wheel – do you consider someone saying that about you to be insulting? Is the pot calling the kettle black? I’ll let you judge for yourselves.

I’m not sure if the actual truckers who make up America’s Road Team really wrote the response to OOIDA or if some official at ATA headquarters did. I’d be fascinated to know. But what we do know is that the response is from ATA.

So let’s look at the ATA. They do, in fact, represent big carriers. That’s their purpose. The Road Team members work for ATA members. The ATA represent truckers in the same way Andrew Carnegie represented steel workers – i.e., they don’t.

That’s not a rap on them. However, I would hold that it’s the truth. As is the case with many associations, the influence of a member company in ATA is, to a great extent, determined by their membership fees, which is determined by their size.

In OOIDA, all truckers who are members are equal. Membership fees are pretty much consistent for everyone. It’s $45, unless you sign up at a truck show or with another special deal, in which case it’s $10 off. So no one trucker or company has any more influence than another.

The Board of ATA is made up of company CEOs and presidents, along with representatives of state associations. Some of them head companies among the largest carriers in the nation. Some of them run medium-size carriers, having a few hundred trucks. That may meet the government’s definition of small, but it does not meet mine. These are executives, and for the most part they work in offices, not truck cabs.

The board of OOIDA is made up of people who drive a truck for a living, most of them owning only one truck. If you are not an actual truck driver, you cannot be named to the OOIDA board.

Who is more in touch with what actual truckers think, what they care about, what issues are most important to them? People in suits who run a trucking company or the actual truck drivers themselves? I think it should be clear to anyone by now where my vote goes.

That said, I’m not here to demonize people for running or being part of a large business or for being employed by one. I’ve been the employee, and I have known the employers. It’s America, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, someone who runs a large business is not the same as a person in a truck who is responsible only to themselves. ATA does not represent those people. Those people do not want ATA saying they represent them. And according to ATA figures, those very truckers, those who own one to 20 trucks, make up 96 percent of all the motor carriers that exist.

That’s who OOIDA stands for. And that’s who the Association will continue to fight for. And for that, we owe no apologies to anyone.

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