If it pools its efforts, the US trucking industry can influence political issues in proportion to its significant role in the American economy, said Walter B McCormick Jr, president and chief executive officer of the American Trucking Associations (ATA).
"We must be united in one clear voice to tell government what's best for this industry and what's best for this nation's economy," McCormick said. "We are one industry with many common interests." He discussed the industry and various issues affecting it at the National Tank Truck Carriers annual meeting May 18-20 in Washington DC.
A united front can influence legislators when they are considering restrictive and unnecessary regulations, regressive and inflationary taxes, reduction of weight limits, and institution of interstate highway tolls. In fact, McCormick noted, polls show that the public is opposed to congressional proposals for interstate highway tolls. "Seventy-seven percent of the American people are behind us on this," he said. "It's like paying rent on a house you already own."
To be effective in influencing legislation, the industry should focus its attention on specific issues and use the resources of the ATA and other industry associations - national, state, and local. "We can communicate and collaborate on common goals," said McCormick.
"Our state association members are strong because they have gotten to know politicians early on who gained higher positions in government."
By taking an active role in politics, an industry coalition may be able to halt or offset hurried and inappropriate legislation such as the international treaty that grew out of the controversial issue of global warming, he said. The Global Climate Coalition (GCC), an organization of private companies and business trade associations, has been organized to coordinate business participation in the scientific and policy debate.
Some of the environmental regulations under consideration will devastate the tank truck industry if they are carried out, he said. The GCC and others opposed to government overreaction to global warming predictions forecast that rigid emission standards being proposed could cost the trucking industry billions of dollars.
"Regulations should reflect safety and sound science," said McCormick.
Presenting a united front in the legislative process works in tandem with having a positive public image. "A single accident can mar an outstanding image previously set for safety," he pointed out. To offset skeptical public reaction and negative media attention, the ATA is developing a Knights of the Road program. "Truckers are not just good citizens on the highway," he said. "They are good citizens in their communities."
Part of the program will address road rage, alcohol and drug abuse, and criminal activity at highway rest stops. The ATA, American Automobile Association, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, the insurance industry, and law enforcement agencies are all involved in the program, he said.
Another program segment will emphasize community involvement using drivers as role models for young people. General Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Persian Gulf War, has established a mentoring program for children, The Alliance for Youth, and has called for trucking industry participation, said McCormick.
Five fundamental goals are part of the program: mentoring, providing safe places for children after school, giving young people a healthy start and healthy future, helping them develop marketable skills, and showing them ways to give back to the community.
The ATA is encouraging carriers to participate in the program through their communities or by volunteering for the ATA program. In addition, the ATA is donating $100,000 contributed by 250 trucking companies and 16 state trucking associations to The Alliance for Youth. ATA plans to develop a database to monitor nationwide what the trucking industry is doing for America's youth and to share the successes with the public.
Drivers who accept responsibility, avoid drugs, use technology in their jobs, and have no criminal records are excellent role models, McCormick said.
In addition to encouraging the industry to unite in legislative and public relations efforts, the association is surveying its services in order to improve. "It will be a leaner and more productive association," he said. The 1998 budget reflects a 10% staff cut and reduced operating expenses.
"We are asking members to tell us what they want," he said. "This is an era of tremendous change."
A strategic planning committee has been studying various association possibilities and will offer its report this summer. Barbara J Windsor, executive vice-president of Hahn Transportation Inc, represents the tank truck carrier industry on the committee.