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Black Smoke Matters protest continues this week as truck drivers rail against overregulation

Photo: Craig Fuller/FreightWaves

For months, members of a Facebook group named Black Smoke Matters (BSM) have been calling for an industry-wide shutdown, which started April 12, to bring national attention to what the group says is government overreach that is hurting truck drivers’ bottom lines.

The group is calling for truck shutdowns to continue until freight rates improve, or as long as truckers can hold out, said an administrator of Black Smoke Matters.

While the group has more than 26,000 members on Facebook, only about 60 trucks participated in slow rolls or convoys in a few cities, including Chicago, New York City’s Manhattan borough and Springfield, Missouri. One Black Smoke Matters administrator called the participation in the slow rolls “somewhat disappointing.”

“It seems we can’t even get five truck drivers in the same group to agree on anything anymore,” Shawn Link, of Muskegon, Michigan, a Black Smoke Matters administrator, told FreightWaves.

“We may not see the impact of what we are doing until Tuesday or Wednesday if our members can hold out and refuse to haul loads, but we are hoping for a domino effect,” Link, a 30-year trucking veteran said.

“I am close to retiring, but I am doing this for the next generation of drivers,” he said.

In January, the group released its list of demands for the April Shutdown, which called for a massive overhaul of government regulations regarding the trucking industry, which included hours of service (HOS) reform, training and safety standards for all drivers and the need for available parking.

The organization also called for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to include truck drivers in the regulatory process and to address costly delays at shippers and receivers that eat into their 11-hours of valuable driving time each day.

It appears the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is listening to drivers’ concerns about addressing flexibility to its HOS rule. Speaking at the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS), U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced that the DOT sent an HOS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval last month.

“I can’t give you specifics because it is still in the rules stage, but I can tell you the department understands the importance of giving you the flexibility [to do your jobs],” Chao said at MATS.

One slow-roll convoy of about 20 trucks, organized by Lori Franklin, president of Black Smoke Matters, headed to the FMCSA Field Office in Matteson, Illinois, on April 12.

Once there, FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez spoke with Franklin and truckers via video conference from the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., regarding the agency’s efforts to move forward with a proposal aimed at increasing HOS flexibility for drivers.

Franklin, who spearheaded the event, was unavailable for comment as of press time about the meeting with Martinez.

Illinois State Police and the Chicago Police Department prevented the same convoy from getting off the highway to drive to Trump Tower in Chicago, according to a Chicago Tribune report.

Still holding out

All three of Janet Sanchez’s company trucks are shut down on April 15. Her company, Lemsi Trucking Inc., is based in Ocala, Florida. She also dispatches another seven trucks, which are also shut down. She and her drivers are protesting low freight rates, the high cost of equipment and repairs and government overreach, which she said is costing her drivers money.

“We are dealing with brokers and the spot market rates are horrible right now,” Sanchez told FreightWaves. “There is a lot of freight to be moved and they need trucks, so maybe this will serve as a wake-up call when there is a shortage of trucks.”

It’s hard to estimate how many truck drivers will shut down in the week-long protest as some said they do not agree with the group’s objectives or will accept good-paying loads if offered.

Many truck drivers originally started shutting down in late 2017 as the deadline approached for FMCSA’s new federal rule requiring truck drivers to install electronic logging devices, or ELDs, which digitally tracks the number of driving hours truckers log.

The regulation went into effect in April 2018, and some small-business truckers say they can’t make money because there is no flexibility in the time they drive. Others see ELDs as a way to increase profits.

“The real reason so many people are upset about this ELD is they can’t lie on their logbooks anymore and it impacts them financially,” Tim Philmon of Middleburg, Florida, told FreightWaves. “With the introduction of the ELD, this is a great time for this device to be used to drive the rates up.”

Since its inception in late 2018, BSM has not been without controversy; some former members have splintered off to form their own statewide groups because of in-fighting.

One former member of BSM, Scott Overmiller of Felton, Pennsylvania, started his own Facebook group, Stand as One Pennsylvania. On Friday, he convoyed with a group of around 24 truckers, down from his estimate of more than 100 trucks, to Manhattan to generate media attention about truckers’ issues.

The group consisted of truckers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

“Our goal was to convoy in front of all the major mainstream media networks in Manhattan to gain public awareness of what’s going on in the trucking industry,” Overmiller told FreightWaves. “We wanted the general public to see us and ask us why we are here.”

Another group meets with lawmakers on April 12

Members of the trucker group the United States Transportation Alliance (USTA) walked the halls of Congress instead of shutting down or participating in slow rolls on Friday, urging lawmakers to support two bills introduced by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota). One bill, H.R.1697, would exempt small carriers with 10 or fewer trucks from using ELDs and allow drivers to revert back to paper logs.

USTA also supports H.R. 1698, introduced by Peterson and co-sponsor Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana), that would exempt truckers hauling agricultural commodities from using ELDS.

“We are trying to advocate with members of Congress about issues truckers are facing,” Brian Brase, USTA director of public affairs, told FreightWaves.

The organization had nine meetings with various lawmakers and industry stakeholders, Brase said.

USTA is not affiliated with Black Smoke Matters, but some of its members belong to both groups.

“We are taking a different path [than Black Smoke Matters] to accomplish our goals,” Michael Landis, chief executive of USTA, told FreightWaves. “We are trying to have positive meetings with FMCSA, lawmakers and other industry stakeholders every month to educate them about some of the issues our industry is facing.”

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Clarissa Hawes

Clarissa has covered all aspects of the trucking industry for 13 years. She is an award-winning journalist known for her investigative and business reporting. Prior to joining FreightWaves, she wrote for Land Line Magazine and Trucks.com. Clarissa lives in Grain Valley, Missouri, with her family.

21 Comments

    1. Myself and 100s of folks all got booted from the legendary "Black Smoke Matters" FB Group page. It is monitored by people how only want what they think to be discussed. It wasn’t going to be anything more than a bunch of drivers all complaining about things, a "channel 19" FB Group.

      If you mentioned anything other then what they had for their particular Manifesto, you were blocked. That mentality is way it was totally ridiculous to do "slow rolls" and making the motoring public sit behind these clowns. Who did this help? Do you think the folks you made late to work on Friday care that you picked this industry to work in. This could have been so much more since the FB Group was getting some publicity. But instead, the circle jerk of drivers at a T/A with guys flipping off the camera. That helped our cause! This actually should’ve been postponed until after the newest revisions of the HOS regulations. But that statement got me dumped out of the BSM Group. Actually kind of funny though, chin up drivers – make the best out of each day and move on.

  1. Miss Clarissa I suggest you find better topics for your future articles. The vast majority of us truckers find BSM a complete joke and annoyance. They, in no way, represent myself or any other respectable professional drivers.

    1. Drivers aren’t respectable anymore. Don’t kid yourself. We all became truckers because we wanted to find a way to get a job without 8 years of additional schooling, now we wear fart stained stretch pants and pee in water bottles.

  2. Black smoke matters isn’t perfect but they have got a lot of people talking, and I believe that’s what they were trying to do. Now more people are aware. Some people because they didnt feel black smoke matters suited them ,have now started their own group. The more this spreads the bigger the movement. The civil rights movement had aggressive protesters ( black panthers) and piecefull protester like Martin luther king. Peasefull protest won in the long run with most rallying behind the leader that they had faith in. Black smoke matters has started the process to help trucking but soon better organized and more politically involved group will form and carry on ,or black smoke matters might just surprise us. Diversity and teamwork is key to creating a movement that can succeed and gain National Attention. For a bunch of truck drivers they sure have surprised me with the amount of attention they’ve gotten. I not so sure but they might have intended to be controversial considering the name the choose.

  3. I think pay is the real issue. If you’re paid right you don’t need to drive 60 – 70 hours per week. The elb is acually good but could use some flexability. I think they could extend the drive time per day and still cap the hours per 2 week period instead of one week. But not allow companies to force the drivers to work beyond current regs. Not everyone can or should drive extended hours every day/week. Drivers need rest but truck owners want that truck rolling making dinero. So we still need to have smart limits while giving some flexability. It doesn’t make sense to penalize a driver for going over a few minutes in a day.

  4. I think eld should be for drivers with less than 3-5yrs experience,or jus do away with it,it doesn’t make you no safer than the driver using paper logs,things are gonna happen

  5. The government better never eliminate the ELD’S. the truckers will go back to 3 fake lig books , dispatchers will b having them drive 20hrs a day, erc and death rates from fatal accidents will soar. Plus about the tour bus industry

    1. Actually the crash rates have gone up since the 14hrs rule and the ELD. SO????????
      Your an idiot, educate yourself before speaking, been driving 25 years 3,000,000 miles no accidents.

    2. Large truck rex have gone up since they started eld’s down as the government wanted you to believe.

  6. Right on Guys, Cheap Rates and the eld nightmare don’t Fly? Enough is Enough. ALSO,Pay is a Joke. I Appreciate Those Who are Willing to STAND UP. ROCK ON

  7. Truck Drivers should be compensated on hourly bases as other skill professionals (mechanics, technicians and electricians) Then most of the problem will solve. Drivers compensation should start once ELD clock-in

  8. There NEEDS to be limits on how much your employer can push you, but ELD causes different types of danger.
    Trucks shutting down on the side of the road, drivers going 20 mph over to get to a rest area in time, companies forcing everyone to work 14/10 EVERY week.
    Imagine starting at 8:00 am on Monday and Midnight by Friday.
    It’s ludicrous, unhealthy, and makes people miserable.
    You can realistically work 10-12 hours a day, non stop, for years, squeezing the extra time and flipping sleep schedules is what pushes exhaustion.

  9. Karl, are you so stupid as to keep driving when you’re sleepy? If you company pushes you beyond reasonable time they will be out of business soon, after all their truck are crashed. We don’t need eld. And f you that spineless you need a different job.

  10. The real problem is no one will shut down for a week..when the shelves are empty in store’s they will take trucker’s very serious,. Then all the concerns that drivers have will be addressed.. like paying lumper fees for freight that they ordered.detaining drivers for 6 to 8 to 10 hours while they separate frieght that they should just stamp the bol subject to count.there are other problems that need to be addressed besides these in this business along with owners of the company stealing from the drivers.

  11. I think most important is a pay, e log is already implemented, 11 hours driving to 14 on duty is optimal, office staff works only 8 hours in a day regularly, were 11 -14 hours, but what more concerns are if they detained for 2 or more the company will pay per hour like what they pay in a city driver, reasonable enough were under company hours not our own free time, they pay also border crossing after 1 hour allowance free, after we get pay, , after 24 hours after delivered/pick up waiting time must also get pay,, we gave up bad weather and traffic, also breakdown of equipment, so pay mostly is most important here.

  12. Company drivers should get paid by the hour or percentage of the haul. That needs to be negotiated but a good starting pay would be $30.00 or 25%.+ detention.
    Being paid by the mile is no good.
    Another thing, you guys with the big fat stove pipes usually straight pipes on older rigs are killin my sleep.
    They lope like a big block with a full cam when they idle. Get a APU or an EPU but that loping CAT IS annoying even on the other side of the lot.
    Gona have to start calling the cops or painting notes on the cab.
    Its impossible to sleep.

  13. Company drivers should get paid by the hour or percentage of the haul. That needs to be negotiated but a good starting pay would be $30.00 or 25%.+ detention.
    Being paid by the mile is no good.
    Another thing, you guys with the big fat stove pipes usually straight pipes on older rigs are killin my sleep.
    They lope like a big block with a full cam when they idle. Get a APU or an EPU but that loping CAT IS annoying even on the other side of the lot.
    Gona have to start calling the cops or painting notes on the cab.
    Its impossible to sleep.

  14. Company drivers should get paid by the hour or percentage of the haul. That needs to be negotiated but a good starting pay would be $30.00 or 25%.+ detention.
    Being paid by the mile is no good.
    Another thing, you guys with the big fat stove pipes usually straight pipes on older rigs are killin my sleep.
    They lope like a big block with a full cam when they idle. Get a APU or an EPU but that loping CAT IS annoying even on the other side of the lot.
    Gona have to start calling the cops or painting notes on the cab.
    Its impossible to sleep.

  15. Maybe instead of only focusing on 1 or 2 trucking groups you should reach out to all groups. Especially since we are all working to better our situations in the trucking industry. Not all of us want to shut down or bug the politicians every month. We are the silent majority and use the technology we have to communicate with those in Washington DC and our own state capitols. As in every profession we need to stay professional when dealing with people who don’t understand what it is that we do. So we choose to stay out of the limelight and work directly one on one with lawmakers and the FMCSA. As most of us have tried the large protest with little to no change in the rules and regulations we as truckers face every day. We have decided to take a different path. As an example we have members that deal with OOIDA and we have other members who deal with ATA and some who deal with the larger (mega carriers) companies. As an industry we all want the industry to get the relief it has so long needed. Yet our government doesn’t seem to listen and tries to run our jobs like we work in an office. It will never work like they want it to. We the truckers of the world do the jobs that our government says only immigrants will do. I call BS as I am an American who grew up only wanting to drive a truck and there are many people just like me out here. If you the media would stop just talking to Facebook groups just because they have the numbers maybe you’d hear all of us and not just 1 or 2 opinions. Here are some groups for you to research: United Drivers Coalition , ICG , Trucking across America with the Schmitts , Gear Jammer Radio , Hammer Lane Radio and the list goes on. As always myself and the team of drivers I work with are always ready to have a conversation about our industry.

  16. Why don’t we start talking about all the small buisnesses that the government has put out of buisness because truckers can’t sit down and relax and eat anymore because of the 14hrs rule. We have to go as far and as fast as we can, basically truck stop to truck stop eating fast food instead of a well balanced meal. Anybody other than myself notice that there aren’t many restaurants to go sit down and eat anymore? Thats how drivers and brokers and the motoring public got to know each other.

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