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Black Smoke Matters group faces criticism as it finds its way

Organizers of the Black Smoke Matters Facebook group have faced criticism over blocking highways in protest, although Chuck Biddles says that is not the group’s goal, but just one suggestion. ( Photo: Shutterstock )

While onboard with the group’s goals, not all truckers seem happy with the approach

Just under a year ago, the Black Smoke Matters (BSM) Facebook group was formed to bring about change for truck drivers. While the group developed a small following, with approximately 4,000 followers over that time, a couple of news stories after Christmas – including one by FreightWaves – around a planned trucker protest on April 12, 2019, more than doubled the group’s membership to more than 10,000, and with it came a series of problems, unanswered questions, and open hostility among members in comment sections.

Where the group goes from here is uncertain, and Chuck Biddles, one of the administrators and founders of the BSM page, has come under fire by some on the page for a lack of organization for the movement and a lack of responsiveness to questions.

FreightWaves reached out to Biddles to discuss the group’s efforts, but as of publication, had not received a response.

Biddles did post a Facebook Live video Thursday afternoon in an effort to clear up confusion, but a former member of the Facebook page says what Black Smoke Matters is doing is not something truck drivers should be embracing.

“As far as the goals they are trying to reach as far as electronic logging devices (ELDs) and hours of service (HOS) [changes], they’ve got the right goals, but the way they are going about trying to get to that goal is the problem,” Chad Teague a truck driver since 2001 with his own authority told FreightWaves. “When you go about trying to shut down highways and disrupt businesses, that is a terrorist act.”

Biddles, in his Facebook video, explained that he is not advocating shutting down highways, but was just pitching an idea.

“Black Smoke Matters is not backing any shutdown of highways or freeways,” Biddles said. “That’s my opinion, that’s my belief, that’s my idea, that’s me personally and me alone. Now, if you don’t believe in shutting down a highway, then don’t. Period. I’m not forcing you to. I’m not sticking a gun to your head and forcing you to. All I’ve done is put out some opinions, put out what I thought could work.”

Teague said that he backed an effort by another member of the group and does not condone blocking a highway.

“The right way for them to go about this is to start a petition with the White House, and if they get 160,000 signatures they will get the President to directly respond to this,” he said. “They need better methods. The group that is leading the BSM group is just hard-headed. They need to realize there is a positive way to get things changed and this is just going to make truckers look worse. We already have a bad image.”

Teague is not along in his thoughts. As the Black Smoke Matters Facebook page has grown, so too have the comments and opinions. Criticisms of the administrators have ranged from the belief that they have no plan, that they are advocating illegal methods of protest, and that they are not explaining what the group’s goal is.

Biddles explained that some of this is due to the rapid growth of the Facebook page which has led to confusion over Black Smoke Matters’ goals.

“I’ve been in this fight for two years,” he said. “The Black Smoke Matters page has been up less than a year, eight months or so, and we have been trying to get people onboard to get ideas, to help us. We have been beating our heads against the walls to bring people in to talk, to help us. … Within 72 hours we doubled our membership; we went from 4,000 to over 10,000 members and it’s hard for us as admins to get on here to answer every question when we all drive trucks.

“We need to understand our war isn’t against each other; we need to quit accusing and blaming and pointing fingers, and cussing each other, and demanding that their way is right, or my way is right and your way sucks,” Biddles added. “Guys, it’s got to come to an end. We need focus on where our war is – the government, the mega-carriers, and the ATA (American Trucking Associations). If you don’t want to shut down a highway, don’t do it.”

Biddles went on to say that if people want to block mega-carriers’ entrances, and they think that is appropriate, then do that. Many Facebook comments have wondered how shutting down on a single day – a Friday no less – would have an impact. Biddles said the April 12 date was not a shutdown day, but rather a “deadline.”

“April 12 was designed as a deadline. If we don’t get help. If we don’t get the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration [to help], we will start shutting down,” he said.

The group’s Facebook page now includes an announcement advising new members to “check things out before diving in head first. 4-12-19 is not a 1 day or 3 day shutdown – 4-12-19 – ? As long as it takes,” the note reads.

For Teague, though, the shutdown has already happened. After he posted a message questioning the group’s approach to blocking highways, wondering what would happen if someone died because medicine couldn’t arrive in time due to the blockade, Teague said he was insulted and then banned by BSM administrators. He shared a message he said Biddles sent him regarding the post:

“Soon after I sent a message to Mr. Biddles that I would be contacting the media and FBI that has covered these stories so that they would have the full background of the plans intended for this so-called ‘shut down,’” he wrote to FreightWaves. “Within minutes I was banned from the group. And I received this message via Facebook messenger from Mr. Biddles, quote: ‘Okay to let you know what’s going on a lot of people want to block highways, I was one that wanted to block highways now that we got people in here, we’re trying to work it to come up with a better plan. If you want to call the media [and] the FBI then that’s fine, I’m going to post it out there that you’re the one calling the FBI to destroy what drivers are trying to do to fix an industry. All we’ve been trying to do is get people to come in, now we got bombarded and we’re working at trying to get the right plan in motion and then this is what we get from you guys, so you go ahead and do what you got to do and I’m going to do what I got to do and I’m going to let everyone know you’re the man calling the FBI so you have a good day.’”

Teague insists he supports many of the efforts of the BSM movement, including ELD and HOS reform, but that he believes blocking highways is dangerous, irresponsible and projects an image of the industry that will not help its cause.

“They weren’t ready for this,” Teague said.

In his video, Biddles acknowledged the group is trying to work through plans and adjust following the surge, and asked viewers for some patience while still proposing ideas to get BSM objectives across.

“We’re working on that (agenda),” Biddles, a 32-year CDL holder, noted. “Like I said, we were trying to get drivers in here to get opinions, get their thoughts, but it just went haywire.”

He pointed out that his biggest gripe with the industry is training. “If we can’t train and teach these people how to drive these trucks properly, we’re going to keep on dying, and killing people,” he said. “We’re not in a war with each other; we’re out here trying to fix something that we have a passion for. It’s a passion, it’s a way of life, it’s not just a paycheck like some of these new [drivers] think. Remember guys, we are in this fight together. We are all truck drivers.”

Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand 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. You can reach him at [email protected]