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Election 2020: Infrastructure, legal battles among top issues for ATA, TCA

The Nov. 3 election – both for president and down-ballot races – has the potential to alter the course of the nation for the next several years at a minimum and possibly for a generation. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) and Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) are both working to ensure their priorities are understood by President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden.

“Regardless of the election outcome on Nov. 3, TCA is looking forward to getting back to work on our legislative priorities with the next Congress and either administration that resides in the White House,” David Heller, vice president of government affairs for TCA, said.

Heller went on to say that infrastructure remains a critical issue for the industry.

“I think this goes without saying, but infrastructure must be a priority and enacting legislation that can truly make a difference in rebuilding our roads and bridges through funding that can fully sustain the Highway Trust Fund,” he said. “Quite frankly, kicking the can down the road on meaningful legislation is something that we should no longer accept and delivering a first-class infrastructure bill to a nation that needs it should be job number one.”

Chris Spear, ATA president and CEO, echoed the importance of infrastructure, noting efforts by his association to craft an infrastructure bill in 2020 that passed the U.S. House of Representatives has positioned it to get a long-awaited bill in 2021.

“Our efforts this year on infrastructure produced a comprehensive bill in the House of Representatives,” Spear told ATA members during the group’s annual Management Conference & Exhibition, “movement … that paves the way for passing comprehensive reform next year, regardless of who voters elect next week.”

How any infrastructure bill is funded is critical, Spear said, noting in his speech the legal fight ATA has been leading as Rhode Island has instituted truck-only tolls as a way to boost funding.

“Success depends most on how infrastructure is funded … and it cannot and will not be done via truck-only tolls,” Spear said. “ATA has successfully litigated the Rhode Island tolling scheme to a federal trial. This is a must-win case. Other states are watching, salivating over the notion of tolling our trucks.” Spear added that ATA is working to ensure any infrastructure bill reflects its priorities and is already working with both campaigns on this.

“We have to be in a position to steer that outcome for the betterment of our membership,” he said.

Drug and alcohol testing

As it has all along, TCA remains committed to lowering the drug and alcohol positive test rates.

“As an industry, we must continue to stress the importance of our zero-tolerance policy regarding drugs and alcohol,” Heller said. “The ‘watered-down’ guidance issued by HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) does little to support hair testing as an alternative testing method that has proven itself to be more successful in identifying a history of drug use for potential drivers that seek to make a career in our industry.”

In September, HHS proposed new guidelines for drug testing employees – including those in commercial operations – that would allow for hair testing. The proposal, though, also requires a second sample be collected using either urine or an oral swab if the hair test comes back positive.

The proposed Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs using Hair (HMG) “will allow federal executive branch agencies to collect and test a hair specimen as part of their drug testing programs.” But it limits hair testing use to applicants for federal testing designated positions and for random testing, according to HHS.

“To successfully create a drug-free zone in our workplace, our industry must be allowed to fully implement the tools that have demonstrated success and be allowed to use those tools in a manner consistent with the goal of the programs that are currently in place,” Heller added.

Spear has continued to advocate for more tools to combat drug violations, saying in a September statement that the HHS proposal was weak and misguided.

“As currently written, [the] proposal by HHS on hair testing is a tremendous disappointment for the trucking industry,” Spear said. “President Trump and his administration have successfully tackled difficult, contentious regulatory challenges with environmental and labor issues, yet on a top-tier priority for highway safety, the administration allowed HHS to deliver a weak and misguided proposal more than three years late.”

Detention, congestion and more

Heller said that while TCA has been pleased with FMCSA’s flexibility in allowing adjustments to the hours-of-service rules, it would like to see the next administration and Congress continue to focus on needed change within the industry.

“Issues like detention, congestion, weather and the search for adequate, safe parking continue to plague our drivers,” Heller said. “Partial sleeper berth flexibility has been great for an industry that needs it, but we must continue to decipher the data that ELDs (electronic logging devices) are showing us and provide our professional tucks drivers the full ability to stop the 14-hour clock and implement a 6/4 or 5/5 split sleeper berth option.”

Heller noted the trucking industry supported the use of ELDs, but with that support “comes the responsibility of interpreting the data to create hours-of-service regulations that benefit everyone.”

Independent contractors

The battle over independent contractors that is being waged in California is also top of mind for TCA. The federal law, known as F4A, bars any state law “related to a price, route or service of any motor carrier … with respect to the transportation of property.” That said, California has passed a regulation thatredefines most independent contractors as employees. Most in the trucking industry have fought hard to ensure the independent contractor model remains a critical part of the industry and truckers in California have been exempted – for now. It is a situation that TCA would like to make permanent.

“The long-standing independent contractor business model must be preserved and any state meal and rest breaks must not pertain to our drivers who operate in a national environment.  The very reason we have federal hours-of-service regulations should certainly be enough for drivers to plan their day rather than adjusting to a possible intricate patchwork of state meal and rest break laws,” Heller said.

Legal concerns Following his address, Spear noted that association officials are already working with both the Biden and Trump campaigns to tell ATA’s story and position it to effect change.

“Like four years ago when I came into this role, we’ve tried very hard to work with people who want to work with us and not make this an ideological [association],” Spear said. Spear said that ATA continues to be focused on legal concerns beyond the Rhode Island truck tolls fight.

“Flanked by sound ATRI (American Transportation Research Institute) data, we’re now leveraging our image for the benefit of ATA’s strategic priorities,” he said. “A year ago, tort and legal reform was elevated to be a tier-one priority. Since then, ATA has led an army of honest, safety-minded industry stakeholders to victory in Louisiana, Iowa and Missouri, dealing countless blows to the plaintiffs’ bar on issues ranging from seat belt gag rules to phantom damages. 

“Trial attorneys are now paying attention, some even claiming that they’re the defenders of safety. Really? Where were they when ELDs, cameras and technology entered our trucks? I don’t recall seeing one trial attorney walking the halls of Congress when that was up for vote. Where are they as we advocate for more tools to combat the nation’s war on opioid use and the widespread legalization of recreational marijuana … tools like federal hair testing authority, expanding FMCSA’s drug clearinghouse or fixing the CSA program? The truth is they haven’t lifted a finger for safety. Instead, they hide behind frivolous lawsuits aimed at destroying companies, jobs and families. But thanks to you, we’re taking ’em to the woodshed. So to this parasitic profession, let me share some Wyoming wisdom. … If your horse drops dead, it’s best to get off,” Spear said. 

As the Nov. 3 election quickly approaches, both ATA and TCA are preparing to work with either Biden or Trump, Republicans or Democrats. Whichever party is in control come 2021, though, both associations expect to continue to fight for their members and ensure trucking remains safe and well positioned for the future.

This article originally appeared on Freight Waves

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