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Voice of the O/O: Guilt by Association

Since deregulation opened the door for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit and bit of cash to buy their first truck and venture out into the business world, much has changed.


Since deregulation opened the door for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit and bit of cash to buy their first truck and venture out into the business world, much has changed.

HOS regulations have tightened, operating costs have soared, and competition has become extremely fierce.

Yet to this day, a fundamental care and control mechanism that would surely have guided us well in an uncertain environment continues to elude many in the owner/operator community.

Like a business plan with the plan removed, our course remains unclear as we try to keep pace with an industry evolving rapidly, leaving us severely disadvantaged and vulnerable.

It’s the absence of this essential component from our sector of the industry that has fueled the passions of association visionaries for years, in their endeavors to bring about change and regain lost ground.

These days, mentioning the word “association” in conversation with fellow owner/operators at the local coffee stop draws a look from more than a few that suggests some sort of exorcism is in order.

What is that?

I’ll tell you what it is. It’s a clear disregard of the toll this missing ingredient has taken on our sector, and a gross misunderstanding of how a well-orchestrated, collective effort toward positive change can make a difference.

I’ll tell you what else it is. It’s flat out laziness. For many, it’s just easier to do nothing than put any effort into working toward change.

A good example of how action breeds progress by means of an associated lobby effort is the class action of the Summerland group vs. CRA on the meal expense deduction, something we can all relate to.

Several hundred truckers took the leap of faith and agreed to team up on one issue, chipping in a hundred bucks each to cover legal fees.

Even though the case hasn’t yet gone to court, being united on an issue has given many owner/operators the confidence to start claiming a more “reasonable” meal allowance, and filing amendments to past tax returns.

The ground gained as a result of that collaborative effort can be measured in dollars and cents when it ends up in the hands of your tax preparer.

These are achievements you can take to the bank! At the end of the day, the two main ingredients for success will always be co-operation and contribution.

Opponents of owner/operator associations would have you believe that ulterior motives such as achieving wealth and power are what drive these visionaries to seek your support and contributions.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Building a strong and successful advocacy group from the ground up involves hard work and dedication, and not a small amount of financial risk. There’s no glory in that. And it’s the lack of support and confidence from the very community it would serve that threatens an association’s chances of success just as much as the enormity of the issues it’s trying to deal with.

And like it or not, we’re a segment of the industry that’s largely unwilling to account for its shortcomings. All of us have contributed our share to bad custom and practice that’s grown up in the industry. For instance, our loose use of the “backhaul” word – a seemingly insignificant factor, right?

Wrong! It’s not so much the word, as what it represents, that is so disconcerting.

We have allowed its practical application to become so commonplace that shippers and carriers think we are okay with it. For starters, we should be striking the word from our vocabulary and finding a replacement that more accurately reflects our expectations of what a profitable load home should look like.

Secondly, we can resist by letting customers or dispatchers know we are unhappy with the rates.

I’m not asking you to get yourself fired over it, just that you send a clear message that we are not okay with it!

If you take time to look at the goals and objectives of a national association like OBAC and other regional, sector-specific groups around the country that share our vision of success for the owner/operator community, you will find that we are as transparent as the windshield you look through every day.

We’ll all be happy to let you see the inner workings of our organizations – something the nay sayers club is not likely to do, as this would reveal that their negative perception of owner/operator associations is based largely on guesswork and false assumptions, with a good measure of skepticism and sour grapes thrown in.

So the next time you’re out in your truck and you bump into a member of their club, tell them I said to drop in here any time and take a good look around.

They are certainly welcome, where the grapes are sweet and the coffee’s always on.

– Don Robertson is vice-president of OBAC. He can be reached at drobertson@obac.ca


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