Not In Their Backyard: U.S. O-Os rattle Canadians with calls for foreign driver crackdowns

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The Owner Operators and Independent Drivers Association created a bit of a stir recently when called for a U.S. DOT crackdown on “foreign” commercial drivers operating in the United States.

It wasn’t long before the phones started ringing here at Today’s Trucking and sister publication highwaySTAR offices with dozens of indignant Canadians questioning OOIDA’s apparent change of heart toward northern drivers.

A week earlier, OOIDA and OBAC, the Owner-Operator’s Business Association of Canada, had announced an amalgamation of sorts — an agreement to share resources and expertise to further the goals and objectives of both organizations — and many lauded the venture. It seemed odd to many of our callers that the crackdown call would come so close on the heels of the announcement of the partnership.

OOIDA president and CEO Jim Johnson confirmed that he has indeed asked the U.S. DOT to look more closely at foreign drivers, but says he was referring more to Mexican drivers than Canadians.

OOIDA’s boss doesn’t think only Canadian hazmat
haulers should get away with a FAST card substitute

“We’ve got a real problem at our southern borders with trucks and drivers that don’t meet American safety standards crossing into our country and taking work from American drivers who are required to meet certain standards,” Johnston said in an interview. “The problem is really with our enforcement people and elected officials who don’t seem to want to confront this issue.”

Johnston says safety standards and pay rates in Mexico are poor, and he fears that Mexican drivers will soon be operating in the U.S. at rates American drivers — and Canadians too for that matter — can’t compete with.

Still, Johnston does admit he has a problem with the fact that Canadian drivers are eligible to haul hazmat loads with only a FAST card as proof of a background check, while U.S. drivers are forced to go through several agencies to clear their names. “You guys seem to be getting off lightly compared to what we have to go through,” he said. “But you know it’s not the individual drivers; it’s the system I have a problem with. We need some consistency here, and it has to be fair to everyone.”

With regard to security issues for truckers who haul hazmat, OOIDA’s beef is with their own government, not with foreign drivers.

“It’s an extremely aggravating situation: the FAST card is an acceptable security document for Canadian and Mexican drivers, but not for U.S. drivers. How stupid is that?” asks OBAC executive director, Joanne Ritchie. “U.S. drivers are clearly being discriminated against in their own country. Not only are multiple background checks and fingerprinting required for each situation, there’s the added frustration of a costly and inefficient system.

“I know Jim [Johnston] is really pushing for a single, all-purpose ID card to deal with the alphabet soup of security measures we’re expected to comply with,” she continues. “Pick a card, any card, and get on with it, but the TSA seems to be moving in the opposite direction.”

OOIDA’s other concerns revolve around the practice of interstating, otherwise known as cabotage. Johnston doesn’t want foreign drivers of any stripe moving domestic freight within the U.S. While he says his biggest concerns lay south of his border, he doesn’t want to see northern drivers operating illegally in the U.S. either.

While it’s clear OOIDA is simply protecting its turf, and laying a lot of the blame for current woes at the feet of U.S. law enforcement, Johnston warns Canadians against feeling smitten by his harsh words for “foreign” drivers.

“I don’t think there is a U.S. driver out there that believes Canadian trucks or drivers are a threat,” he says. “We still consider Canadians our brothers and sisters, but we really don’t want to give them all our freight.”

Dick Rankins is an American owner-op based in Washington, but who hauls to Alaska exclusively — through Canada. He says he hopes Canadian drivers would have similar safety concerns if unsafe trucks and drivers were operating in that country.

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