Leo bids farewell to our readers

Where does the time go? Back in May 1996, Truck News offered drivers a space in their paper where we could vent our frustrations and opinions. While it might have been my name at the top of the page, I attempted to express an opinion which I believed was shared by a good number of you. Part of what I expressed, naturally, was based on my observations of the industry as a whole. The rest was based on conversations I had with different drivers at different times.

A while back, I felt I had reached the point where I was starting to sound like a broken record. An old broken record. God, what could be worse than that? So I approached that menace of my podium, that ever-editing assassin of my written word, Mr. John G. Editor, and submitted my resignation. This, therefore, is my last column. At this time I would like to congratulate Dave Holleman on being the new columnist who will bring fresh opinions to the arena and I wish him well in his new position.

As a last word however, there are a couple of issues I’d like to revisit just one more time.

Whether you want to believe it or not, it is my opinion that this industry is in dire need of a wake-up call. I recall a time when our people were well-paid and highly respected, when most were satisfied with their jobs. That certainly is not the case anymore. There continues to be a disproportionate number who are fast becoming dissatisfied with the way they are being treated by all who encompass them in the trucking community, from the managers to the janitors.

This column was always written from a driver’s position, a driver’s perspective. It was never written for the owners and CEO’s of the trucking companies. It was never intended to win friends. On the contrary – it was always written with the expressed intent of acknowledging certain miscarriages of justice I felt existed. I attempted to bring these issues to the forefront and express our frustration and our opposition to them. If some trucking executive didn’t like what I said or disagreed with me, so what? Sorry, pal, but you’re not all picture-perfect employers.

The only way to resolve differences, I believe, is through discussion and an acknowledgement that problems exist. But it seemed that whenever I thought things were getting better, I would hear of some driver who had just experienced some injustice I felt was either extremely exploitive or morally wrong. There continues to be an abundance of driver abuse, and the perpetrators need to be put on notice. That is why I truly believe the idea of an ombudsman or watchdog for the industry needs to be embraced by all of us. Not only for the protection of drivers, but to enforce the law. Because individuals in the industry with substandard practices and ideals who compromise the law do a disservice to us all. There are some good companies out there, and they need to be protected as well from the same unscrupulous operators that give the rest of the industry a black eye.

As an owner/operator, the success of your business rests entirely in your own hands. You cannot continue to place blind trust in people whose main objective is their own success. Don’t take, with a grain of salt, the misleading misrepresentations some of these companies and trucking associations try to inject you with.

A perfect example of a wolf in sheep’s clothing expressing pseudo-concern for truckers is the chairman of the OTA’s professional driver-owner/operator forum (Leo Van Tuyl), who says, “We need some plain language that states the fact that the owner/operator is independent.”

A statement like that scares the hell out of me. This guy, who is supposed to be our representative at the OTA, wants it clarified that we are independent. No wonder the OTA picked him for that job. Thanks, but no thanks for the misrepresentation Charlie. This independent acknowledgement that you seek would only assist the trucking companies in denying us certain protection under the law which we currently enjoy. It would lessen their obligation towards us. Shame on you for trying to mislead those you say you represent. Traitor.

There is an overwhelming amount of case law that states that we have a dependent relationship with these carriers. While we may have an independent business, we are also dependent upon them. We do not have absolute dependency. If you want proof, just ask anyone who refused a load and/or was punished for taking some additional time off. The arrogance shown by some carriers and condescending reprisals they often take against owner/operators are evidence enough to confirm the stranglehold they have on our dependency. I don’t know why, but one common practice involves imposing illegal deductions and penalties on owner/operators once the business relationship has ended. It’s like it’s OK to penalize somebody who is no longer in your employ.

If you believe the rhetoric in their propaganda ads that call us “equal partners in business,” how come when you sign on with a new carrier they have you sign a contract drawn up by their lawyers and written entirely for their protection? Recently, some companies have been forced to change various wording because owner/operators have pulled together as a group and demanded change. But most have not had to. And they continue to operate shielded from prosecution or court challenges because of our unorganized, transient, and indifferent nature.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous companies continue to get away with shady practices because most of us are too apathetic to our cause. We too readily accept trivial injustices against us. Don’t assume that because a company regularly employs questionable tactics in its business dealings, it has an inherent right to do so. It doesn’t. Nobody is above the law. We have to change the perception that these wrongs will continue to go unchallenged. If we must be accountable for our actions, so should they be accountable for theirs.

I hope, through mutual respect and dialogue, these issues can be resolved. The good companies out there should demand nothing less. n

Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.

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