Born of Protest

by Lou Smyrlis

In the span of a few tumultuous weeks, the National Truckers Association (NTA) went from an idea shouted out at an owner/operator protest to a legally registered organization in Ontario that could boast of hundreds of supporters, meetings with high level politicians, and the cooperation of the country’s most powerful carrier association. Yet the organization’s rise has been so sudden, little is known about it beyond its stated requests for retroactive and ongoing fuel surcharges, base rate adjustments to take into account the cost of living, and a government-set base rate. To get to the bottom of what this hard-charging new voice of the owner/operator and truck driver is really all about we caught up with Jonn Faustino, the association’s interim president.

MT: Owner/operators were already represented by groups such as ComCar and the Confederation of National Trade Unions in Quebec. Why did you feel there was a need for a new association of owner/operators?

JF: I know as an owner/operator I wasn’t aware of these associations. I’ve never been aware of these associations lobbying for anything for truck drivers. That’s not to say they haven’t done it. I’m just not aware of it. So if there are organizations out there representing or lobbying for truckers, maybe there isn’t one that has been really effective and that’s why we need a new one.

MT: Your willingness to work with the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) to resolve the fuel situation gives you access to an organization experienced in dealing with government. Yet the OTA is essentially an organization of fleet owners and your association’s demands would impact the pocketbooks of fleet owners. Given the obvious differences, how far can this cooperation go?

JF: As long as we have a common problem we can keep working together. It doesn’t mean that if we do something together today that in the future we can’t have differences. It’s true that some of the things we want to do on behalf of owner/operators and drivers would go against some of the things that carriers want to do. We could end up being adversaries on some issues.

MT: The Canadian AutoWorkers (CAW) union helped get your organization started with a $10,000 donation. Some would say that shows the CAW is at the very least interested in influencing the decisions the NTA makes. Is there room for the CAW within your association?

JF: There is always room for a friend but I think we’re two different types of organizations. I think the CAW showed some interest because they represent truck drivers in Ontario. Their members are us in some cases. I think that’s why they came out and supported us; by doing so they were showing support for their members. They have given us zero influence to date…We put a call to the CAW to see if we could get some advice. This thing was growing so fast we were concerned about making sure we were taking it in the right direction. We were a little overwhelmed. When (the CAW’s Buzz Hargrove) came out and announced he was giving us financial support, personally I was shocked. As far as the future, we haven’t asked them for any more money , and they haven’t offered.

MT: Your group was quite vocal about abstaining from any protests that would affect commuter traffic because you wanted to maintain public support. If the Ontario government delays or refuses acting on your demands would you consider changing that strategy?

JF: No. We feel very strongly against that type of stuff. I don’t think running a convoy down a freeway and impeding traffic is going to benefit the organization. I don’t think that’s going to change the government’s mind, especially this Ontario government. We’ve seen the Harris government tackle a lot of protests in the past and I don’t think they would be bullied into changing their policies. Secondly, that would inconvenience the public and the public is not our enemy.

MT: You met with key Ontario government officials. How close is the Ontario government to addressing your demands?

JF: I hope I’m not being naive but I honestly think that the Ontario government recognizes the severity of this crisis and I do believe they are putting an awful lot of effort in trying to deal with it… I’m just not sure what they’re going to do about it. Recognizing the problem is one thing and solving it is another.

MT: How should fleet owners view your organization? Does it signal a more aggressive approach to dealing with carriers?

JF: They should view the association as the voice of truck drivers which will lobby to create a better environment for truck drivers. I think we’re anything but militant. Some drivers may sound pretty tough and threatening on the CB but let’s face it, if we were not a passive group of people we would not have been living on 15-year-old rates.

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