Spear touts ATA’s legislative efforts, calls for industry to join together

In his State of the Industry speech, ATA President Chris Spear, seen here testifying in Washington earlier this year, talked of the legislative wins the association has gained this year and the strong relationship that exists with President Trump.

The annual State of the Industry address at the American Trucking Associations’ MCE conference is a time for the president to highlight all that is good about trucking. Delivering his second address as president, Chris Spear noted some of the legislative accomplishments of the association, took aim at some of the industry’s critics, and called for unity.

Spear said that California’s attempts to mandate meal and rest breaks for workers contradicts federal law, saying “this is not the United States of California.” The policy, he claimed, causes drivers to park in undesignated places putting them and the motoring public in danger.

“This confusion has generated a litigious frenzy,” he added. “Over $250 million in settlements to date and immeasurable exposure in pending and potential litigation. Apparently, California’s lawmakers care more about the plaintiffs’ bar than public safety, or even jobs. This is an issue we have to win, and we will.”

Spear noted the efforts that led to Congressional changes to the hours-of-service rules that were rewritten in 2013.

“Since 2013, the back-to-back 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. and 168-hour requirements were your number 1 priority on the ATRI issue survey,” he said. “Thanks to your unyielding efforts, it’s our top priority no more. Last December, Congress passed and President Obama signed legislation that permanently struck his own administration’s ill-conceived, special interest-driven hours-of-service rules from the U.S. Code.”

Among ongoing efforts, Spear highlighted ATA’s task force that is working to build support for President Donald Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, and noted the association’s involvement in promoting Trump’s tax plan, which was outlined at an ATA-sponsored event in Harrisburg, PA, two weeks ago.

“Citing truckers as ‘the barometer for the nation’s economy,’ the president shared a detailed proposal, entitled the ‘American model,’” Spear said. “It includes a corporate tax rate reduction to 20%, cutting a third of what our industry currently pays, and it eliminates the dreaded estate tax, also known as the death tax. That’s your money. It belongs to you. And with it, you will be empowered to invest more in your employees, your equipment and the future growth of your businesses.”

Turning to NAFTA, Spear said ATA is supporting the U.S. Chamber’s coalition to advocate for sound trade policy.

“I’ve visited our borders and can tell you first hand that our industry will be the first to feel any changes in NAFTA, good or bad,” he said. “Together, ATA and its Mexican and Canadian counterparts, CANACAR and CTA, have come together to help our respective nations preserve and promote policies that benefit our industry, our customers and the United States’ ability to grow its economy.”

Spear went on to note ATA’s spot on the Federal Advisory Committee on Autonomous Technology and the efforts of ATA’s lobbying to kill recent legislative attempts to stop the ELD rule from going into effect.

“This issue has been legislated, promulgated and litigated, and it is now time to move forward,” he said. “ELD technology removes one’s ability to exceed the legal hours of service… ushering in a safe, efficient and fair playing field for the nations’ trucking industry.”

ATA is pushing for the allowance of association health plans to be sold to non-association members; universal recognition of security credentials; common sense policies that lower carbon emissions from our equipment; eliminating redundant drug testing requirements and improving drug screening; improving driver training; and, removing government barriers so that cars, trucks and infrastructure can connect.

“And as we have also demonstrated, ATA will aggressively call out federal policies that fall short of their intended goals, such as joint agency rules to require speed limiters on commercial vehicles only, and rigid test standards for sleep apnea,” Spear told the audience.

Spear called on leaders to help ATA create pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship training programs, and hiring and training 18-21 year-olds to fill the 50,000 driver jobs the industry is lacking.

“With an average salary of $56,000 for drivers and $50,000 for technicians, employer health insurance and more than 90% of employers providing retirement and other benefits including life insurance and paid holidays, one would think this is a pretty attractive industry for individuals without a college degree,” Spear said. “Based on the numbers, it is. But our industry faces several barriers that must be addressed if we’re to grow.”

The association is also seeking entry-level training standards for veterans and nonveteran employees, solutions to detention time and congestion impacting drivers’ hours.

Spear finished his speech by noting the groups trying to derail the industry’s agenda.

“Back in Washington, anti-truck and amateur-hour advocacy groups believe they know what’s best for our industry. This wave of special interests has built a cottage industry fueled by ideology, emotion and misguided narratives … all intended to divide our industry and this association. Obstruction is their weapon of choice,” he said. “From bad bills to frivolous lawsuits, trolling social media and issuing personal attacks. Theirs is an agenda purely based on the notion that if it feels good, do it… and if it fails, blame someone else.

“Agendas rooted in ideological divisions are nothing more than self-fulfilling prophesies. Rest assured, ATA will not be driven into this rut, nor allow such division to impede our ability to win,” Spear added. “Our focus will remain on safety, sound data, the truth… doing what’s best for our industry and the country, not what’s good for a political party or one’s personal agenda. And we will leverage all of our assets, most notably, our drivers. From America’s Road Team Captains to the National Truck Driving Championships, we celebrate our drivers, their many talents and the indelible mark they make each day on the lives of all Americans. These are the rocks that break this wave.”

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.