Who's Who, What's What?
by Jim Park
Politics and truck drivers are strange bedfellows. Mostly, truckers operate in the political shadows. Nobody really pays them much attention until the proverbial hits the fan. And frankly, most truckers prefer it that way. Aside from the guys in suits, whom the press occasionally refers to as "truckers" in a generic sort of way, there's seldom any contact between the politicians and the folks who keep the rigs moving.
That's not the case these days. Fuel prices have continued to escalate since the spring when the first round of skirmishes in what has become a very public debate made the front pages in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. We really haven't heard much from western Canada despite record price increases in that region as well.
Activity in the Maritimes seems to be limited to Newfoundland, where Dave Cook and his association have been talking with shippers, carriers and the government. As it stands, Cook has negotiated a 10.51% fuel surcharge on truckload shipments and 6.22% on LTL loads, with a provision that if fuel moves any more than a nickel a liter in either direction, the surcharge would change accordingly by one percentage point.
As highwaySTAR went to press in mid-October, activity in southern Ontario was heating up. Several weeks earlier, the National Truckers Association had rejected an offer from the government of Ontario and the Ontario Trucking Association to avert a shutdown, saying, "It wasn't going to put any money back in our pockets soon enough."
The government did follow through on a pledge to establish a 'Trucking Industry Working Group' to examine such issues as shipper compliance fees and regulation for freight brokers. The group was established as promised but owner-operators grew increasingly frustrated with what they saw as stalling tactics on the part of Al Palladini, the Ontario Minister of Economic Development and Trade.
The associations want a 24% fuel surcharge imposed on all shippers in the province immediately. Although Palladini has hinted that he would consider regulating the surcharge issue if the industry couldn't come up with a solution internally, he was emphatic that the changes wouldn't happen overnight. Frustrated, the owner-op groups left the talks and voted, Oct. 17, to begin some form of protest action, including blockades and shutdowns, the following day. They did exactly that.
Despite that organized action, and despite the success that Cook and his band have achieved, there is no broad-based, co-ordinated effort to make the owner-operator's voice heard. That's at least partly because people don't know the players. We have no particular axe to grind here, but we thought it might be helpful to know what the groups are all about and who's standing at the microphone. Ladies and gentlemen, here are your leaders:
Newfoundland and Labrador Independent Truckers Association
This organization arose out of the fuel protests last spring. As the group began to come together, the Newfoundland government anted up $25,000 to ensure it stayed together and provided the government some continuity in the negotiating process.
The group hired Dave Cook as its executive director and then approved its charter back in May. Since then, Cook says the group has made substantial progress. "We've successfully dealt with the surcharge issue, for one thing," he says. "There was a lot of questioning in the beginning, from the shippers, but they came around."
Rather than try to re-impose some form of economic regulation on the industry, the Newfoundland government has said it would like to develop a model contract. Cook feels that's an issue that needs to be addressed quickly, and he says he'd like to see some form of "compensatory standards" put in place rather than re-regulation.
National Truckers Association
This Oshawa, Ont.-based owner-operator group leapt onto the national stage in the spring when fuel prices threatened to destroy them. NTA is, or was at press time, made up mostly of owner-ops who serve automotive manufacturers in southern Ontario.
NTA spokesperson Heather White says the group is currently pushing for an immediate 24% rate increase, in addition to a fuel surcharge based on a sliding scale, similar to the arrangement in Newfoundland.
Brian Jones, an NTA board member, says the issues facing his members are rates and fuel prices. "I don't see raising the rate as an immediate solution," he said. "Certainly that has to happen, but the surcharge is the only way to get more money out of the shippers and carriers right now."
As highwaySTAR went to press, NTA president Bill Wellman was still talking with Al Palladini and the Working Group mentioned above - and NTA members were still staging blockades on the highways of southern Ontario.
Greater Ottawa Truckers Association
This crowd has been negotiating on behalf of their members since 1965. Their presence on the national stage has been minimal because they've focused primarily on aggregate hauling, and mostly in the Ottawa-Carleton Region.
The high cost of fuel remains the issue du jour for president Dwayne Mosley and GOTA. "Rate increases are still viewed as a long-term solution," he says. "These guys need relief right now. The only way to effectively accomplish that is with a dramatic surcharge." Mosley, in conjunction with the NTA, is calling upon Palladini to force shippers to cough up an immediate 24% fuel surcharge.
In addition to the fuel and rate issues, Mosley also thinks the government should be looking at some sort of entry control to protect the interests of the existing industry players. "They've got to take a look at the CVOR system," he says. "They can't keep handing them [operating authorities] out to every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants one." That, he points out, is how the fly-by-nighters get a foothold in the market and proceed to drive rates down.
Northern Ontario Truckers Association
This association also sprang into existence back in the spring, and for similar reasons. NOTA is actually a chapter of GOTA. The liaison between the two groups is Moe Corriveau, who has been an owner-operator for five years.
Corriveau says the best approach to resolving the issue is for governments to immediately cut fuel taxes and impose a 24% surcharge on the shipper, with a guarantee that the full amount will flow down to the owner-operator. "The carriers have been unsuccessful up to now in keeping the rates up," he says. "While I'd agree that we do need a rate increase, forcing the shippers to pay the surcharge is the only way that we'll ever see that money."
According to Corriveau, his 170 paid-up members are seeing an average of 3% to 6% coming from their carriers. While he admits that carriers themselves probably aren't getting more than that, he insists it's nowhere near enough to keep his members solvent.
Canadian Owner Operator & Independent Drivers Association (COOIDA)
This group is an off-shoot of the very successful American association, known to most as OOIDA. At present they claim to have nearly 400 paid-up members, mostly Canadian owner-ops who've bought memberships in the American group.
Dave Marson of Calgary, Alta. is the Canadian representative of the group, and he says that OOIDA would be a lot more active in Canada if it wasn't for the tremendous effort they've got going in the U.S. They're fighting battles on several fronts right now, including a challenge to the proposed HOS regulations. Last spring, OOIDA pushed the U.S. Congress to introduce the Motor Carrier Fuel Cost Equity Act of 2000. Congress subsequently passed the fuel-surcharge bill, but it must still must clear the Senate before it becomes law.
If OOIDA ever does succeed in getting a foothold in Canada, Marson says we can expect a very active lobbying effort in Ottawa. "That's the way the group works," he says. "We spend a lot of time in the backroom. We do our research and we make a very good case for ourselves before we go in."
OTA Professional Drivers and Operators Forum
Formed in 1997, the group had been in the works for several years before that. The Ontario Trucking Association decided to launch the Forum in response to calls from the drivers and owner-ops working for carrier members. The Forum is not an active player in the current unrest. It's primarily an advocacy group dedicated to raising the bar on behalf of all professional drivers.
For his part, the chairman of the Forum's advisory committee, Leo Van Tuyl, says the main problem with the current situation is that everybody waits until it's too late. "I know these are difficult times for them, but the issues should have been brought to the table a long time ago," he says. "Not last spring, or last year, but 10 years ago. The owner-op needs a voice in any discussion involving the trucking industry. They just haven't been involved up to now."
First, he says, owner-operators need a more useable and understandable contract. From there, they can begin dealing with cross-border issues such as cabotage and customs clearance. Then they can get on with participating in other discussions such as taxation and environmental issues. "These things won't put money in their pockets right away," Van Tuyl cautions. "But the long-term picture will improve considerably over a short time. They just need to know where they want to go, and how they want to get there."