Day 5 of the owner-operator protest dawned in Washington on May 5, with rain on the way. That won’t be enough to deter protesters, who have resolved to remain in place on Constitution Avenue until they get their meeting at the White House.
“I’m full of energy and ready to keep going,” said protester Janet Sanchez in an exclusive interview with The Trucker. “I came here to get a job done, and I’m staying until it’s finished.”
In another interview, Jeremy Johnson, another member of the protest, said, “We’re standing strong.”
Both Johnson and Sanchez are administrators and members of The Disrespected Trucker group on Facebook. The group, started in late July 2019, currently boasts more than 7,000 members. Many of those members joined the group in the past two weeks as the current protest unfolded.
The protest continues to grow.
“We had another six or seven more trucks join us today, and there are more on the way,” Sanchez said. “We’re not leaving until we get our meeting.”
Protests involving large numbers of trucks are often at odds with the local population and government. That isn’t happening here, and protesters say they are surprised at the local support they have received.
“Right here, where we are, the police, the Secret Service, the park police — they’ve all been nothing short of supportive,” Johnson said. “At noon they come in with 15 pizzas and another 20 at suppertime. We ask who is sending them, and it’s always ‘concerned citizens of Washington D.C.’”
“They’re great! We have police officers that come by and have dinner with us,” she explained, adding that even some of the local motorists are getting involved. “Some of the motorists are making ‘#MakeTruckingGreat’ signs and putting them on their cars; then they honk as they go by.”
Protest participants are working hard to keep relations good, Johnson said.
“You walk up and down the street past all of these trucks, and you don’t see a piece of trash anywhere,” he said.” We’re doing our best to protest peacefully, within the law.”
The protest has achieved results. So far, the White House has acknowledged the group’s presence with the gift of a bag full of hats. Names have been recorded for the process of security clearance for a potential meeting. And President Trump himself thrilled participants with a Saturday-night tweet that began, “I’m with the TRUCKERS all the way.”
However, the demonstrators are looking for more than attention from government or media. Being noticed is a first step, but action must follow. They want a meeting with the president, or at least with members of his administration who will hear their complaints.
One of the first questions that must be answered if a meeting is granted is who will go to the meeting.
“I’m on the list, but obviously, all of us can’t go to the White House,” Sanchez said.
Johnson was a little more specific.
“Janet Sanchez will definitely go,” he said. “Either me or Shawn (McIntosh, another member of The Disrespected Trucker), if we get the chance. And Mike Landis, CEO of the U.S. Transportation Alliance.”
Johnson understands that the size of the delegation is important, too.
“We have to be careful who goes,” he said. “Everyone has to pass a background check, and we don’t want the meeting to turn into a three-ring circus.”
Once it is determined who will attend the meeting, if it happens, the question of what issues will be presented is critical to the cause. It’s also where Sanchez and Johnson differ — for now.
“You can’t just walk in and demand regulation of brokers. What happens when someone else wants to regulate how much truckers are paid?” said Johnson, adding that that hours-of-service (HOS) reform is No. 1 on his list.
“They lifted the HOS restrictions because we (truckers) were deemed ‘essential’ during the COVID-19 crisis,” he explained. “News flash: We’re essential 365 days of the year.”
Johnson also thinks too many regulations are put in place without considering the input of drivers and small-business owner-operators.
“We want immediate suspension of all HOS regulations until we get a seat at the table,” he said, explaining that the 14-hour rule is the first target.
Sanchez, on the other hand, wants to target income.
“The big issue is money,” she said. “I’d like to see the broker percentage (of load revenue) brought down to 10 to 20%, with at least 80% to the trucker. Trucking is a high-risk job, away from home, and the trucker bears all the expense.”
Her reasoning looks to volume. A brokerage has multiple employees, and each one might book 10 to 15 loads a day, while the trucker can only book one, she explained.
She also wants more transparency in broker-trucker dealings.
“A lot of truckers would like to see the full amount the broker is paid before the load is accepted,” she said. “That way, everything is transparent, and the trucker knows if the broker is keeping too much.” Sanchez listed hours of service as the next item to be addressed, followed by the treatment of drivers.
“We also want to see drivers protected,” Johnson said. “Too often, detention isn’t paid. Our time should be paid, too.” He listed access to restroom facilities at shipper and receiver locations as another issue. “It always seems everyone is protected except the trucker,” he concluded.
While the protest continues, the group’s de facto leadership plans to continue polling the participants to make sure everyone is on the same page.
“We’re trying to take opinions from the drivers, then the more experienced drivers are working to narrow it to the two or three main points,” Sanchez said.
Keeping the demonstration peaceful is an important goal, too.
“Janet, me and Shawn, wherever we can keep things calm and moving forward, we want to be there,” Johnson said, adding that it’s important that the group is together.
“My message is one of unity between all of us,” Sanchez said. “Really, we can accomplish a lot of things if we’re all together.”
Both Johnson and Sanchez are confident that persistence and unity are keys to achieving their objectives, and they’re asking for public support.
“Truckers move America,” Sanchez said. “America needs to stand up for its truckers.”
[Photo courtesy of Rebecca Doty via Facebook]
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.