WASHINGTON — After an eventful day in Washington May 13, small trucking businesses protesters came a very large step closer to achieving the goals of their cause as their protest now nearing its third week. President Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows spoke to the group for nearly 15 minutes, assuring them that Trump is aware of their cause and is listening as the nearly 150 assembled truckers voice their concerns.
“The president has heard you, and he wants us to get something done,” Meadows told the group.
One major accomplishment, whether intended or not, is that the protest group finally narrowed the field of spokespersons to one.
Michael Landis, founder and CEO of the United States Transportation Alliance, was pushed forward by the crowd to speak with Meadows. Accompanied by a round of cheering, he told Meadows that a “stimulus or bailout is not necessarily the biggest thing we’re looking at.” When Meadows responded, “Well, what’s the biggest thing?” Landis responded that broker transparency and driver safety are the biggest issues.
“So, I’ll make you a deal,” said Meadows. He then asked the crowd, “So, you all like Mike?”
The cheering and applause were decidedly affirmative. Meadows offered his personal email and promised that if Landis puts together a list of priorities and sends it to him, Meadows will act. The wary Landis, who has personally heard years of promises of action from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and others in Washington, responded, “We’d like to hear that from the president.”
Meadows was unfazed by the comment and accompanying jeers, responding, “Let me just tell you, having the (president’s) chief of staff come out with my security detail and everything else is something that really doesn’t normally happen. So, I promise you I’m speaking on behalf of the president of the United States.”
When Meadows added, “And, you can Google me if you need to,” the crowd erupted in laughter.
Earlier in the day, a scheduled drive-thru protest of hundreds of buses, sponsored by the American Bus Association and the United Motorcoach Association, was interrupted when trucking protesters moved their vehicles to block travel on Constitution Avenue. Buses were seen making U-turns, trying to find a way out of the blockade and continue their own protest. A hundred or more protesters then occupied the empty street, chanting “USA, USA” and “We want Trump.” Many were waving U.S. flags or holding signs reading “No Cheap Freight” and calling for broker-income caps and greater transparency.
Some protesters cheered the buses, believing they had come to Washington in support of the truckers. Others commented that the street blockage was a result of pent-up frustration by demonstrators who had not yet achieved the sought-after meeting with the Trump administration.
“They are holding their ground,” said protester Jake Ritz, who posted a video of the event. “When the people of America decide they’ve had enough, this is what you get.”
In a later video, Jeremy Johnson of The Disrespected Trucker offered an explanation for the blockade. The Department of Justice, he explained, had issued a statement refusing to investigate brokers for price gouging.
“The buses, unfortunately, drove right into a crowd of 200 (angry) truck drivers,” he said. “It didn’t go well.”
Law-enforcement officials were on the scene to monitor the mostly peaceful protest. One officer could be seen in videos talking to a group that included protest spokespeople Janet Sanchez, Landis and others, informing the crowd that the street is a major hospital thoroughfare and asking them to reopen the route. The officer reminded the protesters of the cooperation they had enjoyed from authorities since their arrival. Minutes later, the road was cleared, and traffic flowed once again.
While some of the protesting truckers expressed solidarity with the bus drivers, the two groups have decidedly different demands. Bus companies are seeking the type of financial relief that Congress provided for the airline industry in a $15 billion package, pointing out that the number of passengers moving by bus each year approaches the number who fly. Unlike the truck demonstration, no demands have been made for changes to current regulations or a meeting with the president.
As the trucks returned to their parking places and moving traffic filled Constitution Avenue, protesters wondered if the street blockage had helped or harmed their demands. That question was answered when Meadows showed up to address the group.
Several of the protesters spoke to Meadows in turn, detailing their versions of protest objectives. Janet Sanchez spoke of hours-of-service (HOS) restrictions and how they harm owner-operators’ income potential.
“Many of you have talked about some of some the hours of operations and the way it’s gone for the independent trucker,” Meadows said. To a round of cheering he promised, “You’ll see action on that by the end of the week.” He said he had already spoken with Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, adding, “I wouldn’t be here talking to you if you didn’t have the president’s attention and support.”
After hearing a few varied comments expressing different desired outcomes, Meadows exclaimed, “You all are more divided than Congress, down the way!”
Continuing his conversation with Landis, Meadows said about broker transparency, “I will call the attorney general of the United States, Bill Barr, as soon as I get back to the Oval Office and ask him to look at it. “
Protesters’ emotions were mostly positive as Meadows and his security team departed, with many in the crowd congratulating Landis on his selection to represent the protesters.
Sanchez posted a short video in which she stated, “It’s been a very long and exhausting day, but very much worth the fight and the effort that every man and woman here has put out.”
She was adamant, however, that protesters weren’t leaving, yet.
“We’re going to hang out here for a couple of days, and we’ll be analyzing the situation,” she said. “We should be seeing some action in the next couple of days.”
Trucker Joe Alfaro, who calls himself “Bonafide Joe Alfaro” on Facebook, wasn’t convinced.
In his own Facebook video from Channahon, Illinois, he said Meadows’ visit wasn’t good enough.
“Everybody demanded the president to come out,” he said. “Mark Meadows gave you guys a bunch of lip service.”
Alfaro had been with the protest in Washington until Sunday, May 11, when he had to leave. He urged protesters not to be satisfied with the results so far, and to remain in the capital until more concrete results are achieved — including a meeting with the president himself.
Still, the celebrators far outweighed the detractors as the protesters wound down their 13th day. Johnson expressed his pride in the protesters in his video. “You get two truck drivers together and they can’t agree on a free cup of coffee,” he said, thanking the protesters for their unity and tenacity.
Their goals may sometimes be a little garbled and the results of their efforts are, as yet, unknown, but there is no doubt that an informal and slightly disorganized group of angry truckers has attracted the attention of the people they set out to confront. In so doing, they have motivated larger organizations with much better funding to step up their game.
The story below was previously reported on May 12.
There has been little change as owners of small trucking businesses continued their protest along Constitution Avenue in Washington. A few more trucks have arrived to support the effort, but the anticipated meeting with President Trump or members of his administration hasn’t occurred yet.
Jeremy Johnson, one of the principals behind the Facebook group The Disrespected Trucker, stays in touch with the protesters and says they are “dug in” for the long haul. There are, however, cracks in the movement’s foundation.
Without centralized leadership, it’s hard to tell who speaks for the group.
“We’ve had a couple of rough days,” Johnson told The Trucker. “Some people are posting things as if they have something to do with leading the protest, but we’re not following any one group or person. We’re doing this together.”
Another problem is that with so many speakers, the protest message can be confusing.
“We’re struggling with presenting a united message when we have so many people demanding different things,” Johnson said.
Facebook videos are the group’s primary method of communication to the public, especially sympathetic drivers who aren’t physically part of the protest. Some of the videos, like those posted by Janet Sanchez, are inspiring and motivational to the protesters.
“She’s a dynamo,” Johnson said. “She’s incredibly high-energy. We’re so lucky to have her.”
The problem is that others can post videos, too, and some of those contain dissenting opinions, creating the impression of a lack of organization among the group. The membership of The Disrespected Trucker has swelled to nearly 7,900 and not all the new members are there in support.
There’s a financial aspect, too.
Some of the protesters are feeling the pinch of buying food and necessities while their trucks are parked at the protest. With no money coming in, financial resources are dwindling for many of them. This has led to numerous attempts to raise funds in support. Several people have posted links to various fundraising efforts, and Johnson said that’s a problem.
“There have been several posts about people starting GoFundMe accounts and asking for donations,” he said. “The Disrespected Trucker is not asking for any money, and we will not take any money.”
Johnson said he reserves his trust for only one fundraising effort.
Anthony Marin has posted a GoFundMe account on The Disrespected Trucker Facebook page and has used the donations to provide portable toilets for protesters, supply food items and rent hotel rooms so participants can be shuttled back and forth for showers.
“I know he’s keeping every receipt and keeping it honest,” Johnson said. “But none of the money goes to Disrespected Truckers.”
Steve Oatley, CEO of Freight Broker Live and producer of the “Your Favorite Freight Broker” video blog, also suggests that the message of the protesters isn’t clear. He commented yesterday, “I don’t think they know what they’re protesting anymore,” and suggested the protesters might be better served by working with their individual representatives of Congress.
Rick Santiago, one of the original organizers of the protest, spoke in a Facebook video yesterday saying, “We need 1,000 trucks in Washington.”
However, Santiago’s position has changed substantially from his original assertion that brokers are “gouging” carriers and demanding that broker profits be regulated. Santiago explained that he now believes that both brokers and carriers are simply responding to the free market and that there’s no legal limitations on the amount of revenue the broker can keep. His message has changed to one of transparency.
Then there’s OOIDA, which has issued recent press releases outlining the organization’s effort revise federal regulations regarding broker information. CFR 371.3 requires brokers to provide the details of each brokered transaction to each party involved upon request, but brokers often circumvent the requirement by requiring truckers to waive their rights to see the information before agreeing to work with them. Others place restrictions on the carrier’s ability to see the information that make compliance nearly impossible. The OOIDA proposal would prohibit carriers asking drivers to waive their rights and would require disclosure of the information at the time the load is concluded, without requiring a formal request from the carrier.
For Johnson, the OOIDA proposal isn’t enough.
“We think more broker transparency is a good start,” he said. “It’s a good start. But you and I know that the system is broken. FMCSA and DOT have to let guys like us go into hearings and state our case. Let real truckers speak their minds.”
Johnson says he believes that hours-of-service regulations is the bigger issue that needs to be addressed.
“We’ve been working on hours of service changes for two years. Two years,” he said. “The president can immediately suspend FMCSRs because of COVID-19, but we can’t get anything done in two years?”
Part of the reason for the protesters’ frustration, according to Johnson, is that the government listens to large, well-funded organizations that represent huge corporate carriers, denying a voice to the average owner-operator.
“ATA (American Trucking Associations) and the organizations representing big carriers get the attention,” he explained. “These guys are constantly fed money from their membership. We, the small trucking businesses, need a contact number for a liaison to the FMCSA. We want direct contact.”
While the protest has garnered some high-profile attention, there’s been no action. That’s not good enough for Johnson.
“Our perception is that they think we’re just a bunch of whiney truck drivers,” he said. “Well, we’re dug in, and we’re not leaving.”
Like many of the protesters, Johnson thinks OOIDA hasn’t done enough to support the DC protesters.
“The U.S. Transportation Alliance is right here with us,” he said. ”Where’s OOIDA?”
As the days accumulate, the protesters are resolved to continue the fight.
“We still want a meeting,” Johnson said. “The president has noticed us, but we want our voices heard.”
Whose voice will represent the protesters — and what that voice will say — will be determined later. For now, the protesters just want to know that someone is listening.
[Photo courtesy of Diego HZ]
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.