‘I need a voice in Washington’

By Mark Schremmer, Greg Grisolano and Tyson Fisher

Standing alone, Don Wolford knows his complaints will likely have little impact on the decision makers in Washington, D.C.

That’s why the 50-year-old owner-operator from Greencastle, Pa., joined the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“I need a voice in Washington,” said Wolford, an OOIDA senior member. “I can’t do it myself. I need to be in an organization that will help me along with that. OOIDA is the only one that is fighting for us, the drivers. I contribute to the PAC fund. I reach out to my reps in Pennsylvania. I’ve written a letter, mailed it, faxed it and emailed it to make sure I covered all bases. Once in a while, I get a response.”

While one truck driver’s concerns are likely to fall on deaf ears, an organization representing 158,000 truck drivers owns the clout necessary to force lawmakers to stop and listen. OOIDA started in 1973 and has been serving as the voice for the professional truck driver for more than 40 years.

“To have a voice. To be part of a bigger voice and to help out drivers,” OOIDA Member Robert Schwartz said in reply to the question of why he joined the Association.

Tim Bauman, a 36-year-old OOIDA member from New Paris, Ind., joined for similar reasons.

“I really wouldn’t have the opportunity to have my voice heard,” he said. “That’s why I joined OOIDA, so that they can be the representative for you.”

Ahmad Rashid, an OOIDA member from Carrollton, Texas, said the Association not only provides a voice for truckers, but also provides the correct one.

“OOIDA stands for the issues that are beneficial to us,” he said. “It stands for the right cause.”

Glenn Thompson, an OOIDA member from Huffman, Texas, said he joined because truckers need “someone to be our true go-between” between truckers and politicians.

Being a trucker, you’re a true rebel and a true warrior,” Thompson said. “We put our lives on the line each and every time we put the key in and get behind the wheel. We need to make sure we’re heard on a large scale.”

Other members said OOIDA provides important information and services to allow them to do their job safely, efficiently, and in a cost-effective manner.

“When I bought my first truck, I went to the Louisville show and ran into OOIDA there,” said Robert Johnson, an OOIDA member from Kaufman, Texas. “I talked to some of the people there, and I was impressed with the whole organization, because we honestly needed somebody to help us.

“They also help me out a lot. They helped me get my own authority straightened out and some other things. My son’s a member, my dad was a member, and anybody that I come across that has a CDL, I make them get a membership.”

Sheila Fortunato, an OOIDA senior member from Grand Prairie, Texas, also said she has benefited from her membership.

“OOIDA is a reliable place to go for reliable information,” she said. “I joined when I first purchased my truck.” She said she needed a drug test, and OOIDA provided the resources necessary for her to fulfill that requirement.

Gretchen Darmetko, an OOIDA senior member from Hammond, La., learned about the Association from another driver.

“Shortly after I earned my commercial driver’s license, I was teamed with another driver that was responsible for teaching me the rules of the company. He was extremely thorough, and I learned how to apply the rules of the road to the work of the day. He told me how OOIDA was an organization designed to help and protect the trucker, regardless of whether or not I owned a truck.”

In turn, Darmetko passed on the word about OOIDA to her current team driver, Angela Surette.

“When I started teaming with Gretchen 14-and-a-half years ago, she introduced me to OOIDA,” said Surette, who, like Darmetko, is an OOIDA senior member. “It was nice to have somebody on our side to fight for our rights with the federal government and other organizations that try to impose on our rights.”

Russell Short, an OOIDA life member from Brook Park, Ohio, said the Association has done its part to improve the work environment for truck drivers.

“OOIDA has been so good for the industry,” Short said. “They’ve stuck around and weathered the changes. I appreciate everything they’ve done for us. Other organizations have been around, but they didn’t do as much.” LL