Weighty issues dominate fall board meeting
Advancing the urgent issue of national security to the top of the agenda, OOIDA’s board of directors, executive officers, legal counsel and other industry consultants convened Nov. 7-10 in Grain Valley, MO, for the association’s annual fall board meeting

The board meets twice a year to conduct the association’s business, to assess organizational needs for various projects and to discuss and implement core strategies regarding the association’s target issues. OOIDA President Jim Johnston called the meeting to order and moved directly to the imperative business at hand, saying the top spot for issues scheduled on the agenda would be relinquished to security issues and concerns of privacy.

“While it is critical that we work closely with our government to prevent future tragedies, we cannot allow our fury to serve as justification for laws that trespass on our civil liberties,” said Johnston. “While we support legislation that gives law enforcement officials the necessary tools to find terrorists and secure our highways, we must be extremely vigilant to make certain too much authority in times of crisis does not unnecessarily impinge on our rights. Too much too late is not the answer.”

Executive Vice President Todd Spencer reported to the board on OOIDA’s involvement in several recent high level government meetings evaluating security risks brought to light by the threat of terrorist use of CMVs and how to close those security gaps. More stringent security checks, including criminal background checks, and who should conduct them, is among the top considerations discussed. The association’s focus in these meetings, said Spencer, is to provide as much assistance as possible while maintaining focus on practical solutions that would not necessarily encroach on rights of drivers or freedom of movement of commercial vehicles. Spencer reported on provisions of the recently passed anti-terrorism bill (the USA PATRIOT Act) that requires background checks for hazmat drivers (before issuance/renewal) and the DOT rulemaking to implement these standards.

If state governments or the federal government require background checks, OOIDA recommends the licensing state conduct the background check under federal guidelines. It was the consensus of the board that motor carriers (some of whom are recruiting drivers from prisons) should not have the authority to conduct the checks; background checks should provide carriers with only two pieces of information – whether or not a driver is qualified; a federal standard must be established for criteria on what information is privy to carriers; a clear definition of a background check must be established; and finally, that all CDLs must be scrutinized, not just those with hazmat endorsements.

A compilation of updates on motor carrier litigation was presented by OOIDA’s General Counsel Paul Cullen Sr. and other attorneys from The Cullen Law Firm. OOIDA has prevailed in the courts to achieve some landmark rulings that have become the foundation of the association’s legal actions. The first major building block was OOIDA’s victory in establishing an owner-operator’s right of private action against a carrier. This has been firmly established by the courts in our lawsuits against Arctic, Prime, Rocor and Mayflower and has set a precedent that is now almost beyond refute in future actions.

The second building block was the court’s acceptance of the mandate to enforce the federal leasing regulations. Again, precedents have been set in cases such as OOIDA v. Arctic where the courts dismissed carrier arguments that the courts did not have jurisdiction and that OOIDA complaints must be addressed by the DOT. The recent ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Barker in OOIDA’s lawsuit against Mayflower reemphasized that one of the objectives of the ICC Termination Act was, in fact, to lessen the burden on the DOT for dispute resolution.

The enforcement of the federal regulations by the court system saw another milestone in OOIDA v. Ledar Transport when the court went so far as to issue an injunction against the carrier from using leased equipment unless the lease was legal. In that case, U.S. District Court Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. agreed with OOIDA’s argument that a non-conforming lease constituted no lease at all and that the court should shut the carrier down. Other cases were discussed for possible action.

The board also heard an update on OOIDA’s truck tax cases/ and various implications of recent decisions. Cullen estimated $1.2 million would be realized from the Alabama tax case after refunds were made and monies were distributed to ATA and the state. The board approved a recommendation directing these funds to the OOIDA Scholarship Fund.

Belinda Harrison of The Cullen Law Firm gave a presentation on bankruptcy and the options for our actions when motor carriers file bankruptcy.

An update on legislative issues before state and federal lawmakers was presented by Todd Spencer and Paul Cullen Jr. of The Cullen Law Firm. Spencer reported that the U.S. Senate and House both passed bills to take away NAFTA funding until Mexican trucks meet U.S. standards. Now, the House and Senate must meet to resolve the bill issue. The fuel surcharge legislation, HR2161, is still in the transportation committee. Cullen predicted it would be seeing action soon. In regard to “black boxes” and hours of service, Spencer said “Information we have received indicates there will be no new proposal until the end of 2002.”

In the area of regulatory issues, OOIDA’s Director of Regulatory Affairs Rick Craig and Paul Cullen Jr. reported on the comments and testimony offered to the Department of Transportation by the association. Comments recently submitted include CDL personal convictions; CDL requirements and penalties; diabetes exemptions; record-of-duty status; and drug test results study.

In regular business, board members heard reports from OOIDA President Jim Johnston, officers and executive staffers on the association’s continuing growth and updates on programs and services. Johnston pointed out that despite the huge insurance rate increases that are occurring world wide as a result of the insurance losses stemming from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, all of OOIDA’s member programs will remain stable with little if any rate changes.

A branch of the association vigorously involved in some significant projects this winter is the OOIDA Foundation, the safety research arm. Among the special guests in attendance of the fall board meeting were two members of OOIDA’s Foundation Advisory Board, William Leasure, president of the Truck Manufacturers Association (TMA) and Dr. Michael Belzer, PhD, of Wayne State University, Detroit.

John Siebert of the OOIDA Foundation and Dr. Belzer are submitting a proposal to the DOT’s Research and Special Programs Administration for a research project, which, if selected, will consist of conducting focus groups with port container haulers to determine national security risks and solutions. Only 2 percent of 17 million ocean containers are currently being inspected (x-rayed).

In a separate presentation to the board, Belzer presented his study of how driver compensation has a positive relationship to reducing highway crashes.

In other Foundation business, the Foundation Advisory Board presented a proposal for re-design of driver restraint systems in CMVs, with special attention to comfort. The board accepted the proposal to make a recommendation to OEMs, for increased safety for hundreds of thousands of truckdrivers by improving the design of lap/shoulder harness restraint systems to include comfort adjustment systems.

In other business, board members discussed the association’s safe driver award programs. The board also approved continued gold sponsorship of Trucker Buddy International; reviewed the progress OOIDA’s Motor Carrier Rating System and heard a report from Paula Chambers on OOIDA’s very successful Scholarship Award program designed to assist dependants of OOIDA members. The due date for applications for the 2001-2002 school year is March 15, 2002.

The next board meeting is scheduled for May 28 through June 1, 2002.