Coalition for Independent Truckers to Defend Contractor Model

A trade group representing independent contractors has begun a program to recruit and train working independent drivers to serve as “ambassadors” to educate lawmakers and others about their importance to the industry, and the personal opportunities their jobs provide.

Called the Coalition for Independent Truckers, the group’s key goal is to deploy ambassadors to head off efforts in state legislatures aimed at advancing laws that would reclassify independent owner-operators as motor carrier employees.

Although the speakers’ efforts will be targeted at the states, they also could be called up to speak at trucking conferences, post on social media, write op-ed pieces for relevant media outlets, and possibly speak to Congress, said Bill Webb, the group’s leader.

“We’re trying to prepare them for whatever the audience is,” he said.

Webb, who spent 10 years as CEO of the Texas Trucking Association in the late 1990s and early 2000s, said the group has so far identified 14 ambassadors across the country. Their training was set to begin as early as this month, he said.

The idea for the group dates to 2017, but faced headwinds when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. With recruiting now underway, the coalition has raised $100,000 through donations to reimburse ambassadors for time they are not earning on the road, Webb said.

“They will be financially reimbursed for days that they would otherwise be working,” he said. “It’s just not realistic to ask them to not drive for an entire day and not be compensated for it.”

Webb sees the ambassador program as being similar to the mission of American Trucking Associations’ America’s Road Team, which recruits motor carriers’ drivers to represent trucking at events nationwide. In fact, both ATA and the Truckload Carriers Association are supporting the coalition by identifying potential ambassadors. Some ATA state trucking associations will also help with training efforts.

“We’ve been working with Bill Webb and his team to put together training materials they can use as part of their effort,” said Nathan Mehrens, ATA’s vice president for workforce policy. “Independent contracting is a Tier One priority for ATA, so we’re doing an ‘all-of-the above’ approach to protecting that business model. This is just one of our activities in that space.”

“The independent contractor business model is foundational — not just to the trucking industry, it’s foundational to America, in my opinion,” said Hugh Ekberg, CEO of Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based CRST, The Transportation Solution, and chairman of ATA’s independent contractor committee. “We’re focusing in certain states where we see there are the biggest problems, but also the biggest opportunity.”

“The endgame is always going to be to protect the independent contractor model as one that has proven itself time and time again for the truckload industry,” added David Heller, TCA’s senior vice president of safety and government affairs. “The majority of truckload carriers at one point or another started with a basic model and said, ‘Hey, let me buy one truck and grow from there.’ ”

“Legislatures really want to hear from grassroots people that are most affected by a law,” noted Greg Feary, managing partner of the Indianapolis-based transportation law firm of Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary. “It’s very compelling when you can have owner-operators or independent contractors attend a legislative hearing answering questions and explaining how legislation would affect them.”

Feary, a member of the coalition’s steering committee, said he has been helping out by tracking states’ efforts through case law, statutes and proposed bills that threaten the independent contractor business model. He also identifies states looking to pass favorable legislation for contractors.

Currently, Feary said states that are most concerning for the coalition include Illinois and Minnesota. Both of those states will be on the group’s radar early on, Webb said.

“We’re trying to prepare them for whatever the audience is,” he said.

“We’re still dealing with the fallout from AB 5 in California, and will be for some time,” Webb said of the state’s effort that upended the model for drivers there. “That was the gasoline that lit the fire.”

 

Source: Transport Topics

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