AJAX, Ont. – It was in the first week of February that about 50 angry owner/operators met in an Oshawa coffee shop to vent their frustration over rising fuel prices and dwindling incomes. But only three weeks later, their numbers had grown 10-fold, as the National Truckers Association was born at a rally east of Toronto.
Jonn Faustino was one of the truckers at that first meeting, and he was one of the key organizers behind the formation of the NTA during those crazy weeks in February. He began working as a company driver in 1987 and became an owner/operator in 1993. He currently hauls auto parts out of Oshawa for Raycan in his new Volvo 770 (which, he says, he may not have for much longer).
He is also serving as the interim president of the fledgling association and Truck News spoke to him last month, sitting in his sleeper as he prepared to pick up a load of auto parts.
Truck News: How are things progressing with the NTA?
Jonn Faustino: As far as our fight with the fuel crisis and that kind of thing, we were hoping to be making a little bit more progress. But we are plugging along and working to set up the association.
There have been many times when I wanted to get out, but then I think that this is something that needs to be done. This is what the industry needs, an organization to be the voice of truck drivers
TN: Your organization is referred to as “national” but have you received any support from other regions of the country?
JF: We have been getting some calls from people out on the east coast wanting to know what we’re doing and if there’s something we can do together. We have received a couple of calls from the west, too, but just a couple. But most drivers from other regions only find out about us when they come through Ontario.
TN: Do you have an idea yet of how many members you actually have?
JF: We’re just starting to run our first membership drive and we’re going to have a general meeting in April. That’s when we are going to take the first official membership count.
TN: Essentially, the NTA was formed to try to do something about the rising cost of fuel and the effect that is having on independent truckers. Have you made any progress?
A: In spite of all of the effort we’ve been putting into it (meeting with groups from politicians to shippers), the truth of the matter is that the fuel still remains at the same price.
Some of us have got a little money back in the way of fuel surcharges from our employers, but the majority have not.
TN: Aside from talking, are you finding that your association has little power to pressure anybody?
JF: At this point, that is something that we have to recognize. Because the association is new, we don’t have a track record, we don’t have proof of how many people are behind us. But at the meetings we have had in the past few weeks, and at the rally, people saw that we do have a good base of support. That has helped.
TN: Now that the protests have dwindled, are you finding the initial momentum the association had is fading?
JF: I think things have quieted down a little bit, partly because of the commitment we made to (Ontario Economic Development Minister) Al Palladini). He said he would do everything he could to help us, and in turn he asked us to try to get the guys to stop the protests. So we did.
The visible stuff has definitely slowed down, the things people see. They just don’t see truckers protesting anymore. But we have been focusing in on these meetings and trying to get our point across. As far as the momentum of the association itself, the support is still there.
TN: Originally, the NTA called on owner/operators to park their trucks in protest. Do you think that was an unrealistic request?
JF: Yes, but only because we didn’t get enough participation. I truly believe that if we had had 10,000 or 12,000 owner/operators parking their trucks things would be a lot different now. But we only had about 700 or 800 guys who parked their trucks, and we had another 10- or 12,000 still going up and down the road. Although it caused some difficulties for the shippers, and it certainly made them aware, it wasn’t enough.
TN: How do you plan to focus public attention on your issues without radical protests?
JF: Good question. when you have the big rallies and the media is there, people outside the industry start to be aware of what is going on, and that is important. I don’t know – we may have to do something in the future if we don’t get anywhere. That is something that we are looking at right now and some people feel we need to be more active to keep attention focused on the issues. n
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