Moving Forward with Dave Williams

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Moving Forward with Dave Williams

It’s been a busy summer for the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), with the annual Safety & Security meeting, Refrigerated meeting, officers’ meeting and retreat, and more — and TCA Chairman Dave Williams says he’s enjoyed every minute. As the sunny days of summer begin to give way to crisp autumn breezes, the association is ramping up for more events and educational resources for members, from informative webinars and on-site seminars to TCA’s Call on Washington and Fall Business Meetings. Williams reiterates the importance of the annual visit to Capitol Hill and making sure the voice of the truckload industry is heard loud and clear by the nation’s lawmakers. Turn the page to read Williams’ thoughts on a variety of issues faced by the trucking industry, along with a wrap-up of TCA’s summer events.


It’s been a busy summer for TCA, with the annual Safety & Security Meeting in June and the Refrigerated Meeting in July. Please share a few highlights from the two events.

The Safety & Security Meeting in San Antonio was great. The highlight of the meeting for me was the panel of our TCA Professional Drivers of the Year sharing their thoughts and insights on managing safety. They were very candid and had some great feedback for the fleets in the room.

The Refrigerated Meeting in Park City was equally good. One of the things we have really been stressing is that every function we present needs to provide high-value educational content. When you combine that with our trademark networking opportunities, these become “can’t miss” meetings. We are working hard to make sure we provide fresh, relevant takes fleets can benefit from. While I think we can always work to get better, I do believe that we are solidly heading in the right direction.


TCA’s Fall Business Meetings, along with the association’s annual Call on Washington, are just around the corner. Addressing each event separately, please explain why membership participation is important. How can companies find out more about these initiatives?

I am disappointed that I will miss the Call on Washington this year due to a conflict. This will be the first time I will have missed it. The Call on Washington is so important, as it connects real people in the industry — who are impacted by legislation and regulation — with those who are deciding what the rules should be. So many of our members comment that they are afraid they may not know the right thing to say.

First of all, you don’t have to say anything. You can just go and listen. You can also share your thoughts on how the rules and regulations are impacting your business. You don’t have to debate with anyone; you just share your thoughts. I have found that members of Congress listen intently when someone from the industry is sharing their perspective. It is a way for members of Congress to stay connected. Our Fall Business Meeting also brings a lot of value, as members get a chance to take advantage of hearing from Washington, D.C.-based resources including our contracted lobbyists, members of Congress, and leaders of regulatory agencies, among others. With so many important decisions being made in Washington these days, companies need to know what is coming and anticipate what needs to be done in their own businesses to remain successful.


Many — I dare say most — truck drivers are concerned about the adoption of automated heavy-duty trucks, fearing that their jobs will ultimately be eliminated in favor of self-driving trucks. Please share your thoughts on this issue.

I am not a fan of the phrase “driverless or self-driving trucks.” In fact, I have fought against the use of the phrase since I first heard it. This is not because I am in denial, but because I have stayed close to this technology. I believe we are further away from widespread use of this technology in the truckload industry than people may think.

As you may have noticed, the buzz around autonomous trucks has died down over the past year or so. This has come as tech companies realize that applying this technology to heavy-duty truck applications is more challenging than they may have anticipated. Operationalizing an autonomous articulating tractor-trailer combination weighing 80,000 pounds is a different proposition than trying to operationalize an autonomous taxi. And, by the way, that same tractor-trailer combination weighs 60% less as soon as it is unloaded, dramatically changing the center of gravity for the unit. There are technical, economic, and operational challenges that will need to be overcome, which will require substantial funding and a good amount of time. Many of the tech providers in this space are running out of cash as investors grow impatient and the cost to develop the technology continues to grow.

Someone will eventually figure it out, but it will likely be limited to a small number of applications until some of these issues are overcome. On top of this, we haven’t even started considering social acceptance, liability questions, and cybersecurity concerns, among others. I am by no means counting this technology out, but the reality is that we will need good men and women to operate trucks in the truckload market for a long time to come.


Finding and keeping qualified workers is always top of mind for motor carriers. What basic strategies would you recommend a trucking company undertake to ensure their drivers and employees are satisfied with the opportunities they have in front of them?

It takes work to understand what an employee is looking to get out of their relationship with a company. In the truckload market, there is so much diversity in our driving jobs alone — there are long haul jobs, local jobs, and regional jobs. There are loads that require significant physical demands for unloading, while other loads are virtually no-touch. Some freight is so time-sensitive that it may shut down a factory if it is late, while other freight may sit for weeks after delivery. There are companies that supply the newest high-tech equipment, and there are those that buy equipment that has already been around the block a few times. Some routes run though the open roads of the Midwest, while others may run through gridlocked mega-metropolitan cities. There are cold-weather climates and climates that are blazing hot.

Depending on the combination of those factors, our drivers are going to have different expectations for compensation, benefits, and opportunities for personal growth. After accounting for all the workplace variables, I believe it really comes down to relationships. Communicating well, being available, listening to concerns, setting clear expectations, following through on what you say you will do, and showing genuine concern will always yield positive results. There are no one-size-fits-all problems, and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. However, there are some best practices in how we treat people that will resonate no matter what.


Earlier this year TCA, along with a handful of other industry groups, came together to form the Clean Freight Coalition. As the nation progresses along the road to zero emissions, concerns about the time line and the feasibility of developing technology remain. What progress has the coalition made in addressing these concerns?

I have said and written much about this topic over the last few months. Should the current proposed rules and time lines stand, this could be one of the single biggest transformational events in the history of our industry. I am not trying to be dramatic — that is just how I see it. One of our challenges is that the rules keep changing, sometimes for the good but oftentimes, not so much. The Clean Freight Coalition has gotten off to a slower start than many of us wanted, but you should expect to hear and see more from this group in the coming months. With multiple federal and state government agencies involved that are not in sync, it creates some very challenging dynamics. In addition, the entire subject has become strongly partisan, so the difficulty level rises again. This issue is too important for our industry. We certainly want to do our part in preserving clean air and clean water, but these rules have to work for our industry. Rest assured that we will be fighting hard to make sure that whatever happens won’t put the nation’s supply chain in jeopardy.


The annual TCA Officers’ Planning Meeting is something participants look forward to each year, not just for fun and fellowship, but also for the chance to brainstorm about issues facing the trucking industry. Please share a little bit about this year’s meeting.

Our strategic planning meeting this year was held in beautiful Monterey, California, which is one of my favorite places. This meeting is a really important opportunity to unplug from everyday activities and focus for a couple of days on the TCA organization, programs, policies, and value proposition. We had the chance to perform an honest evaluation of everything that we do. We really wanted to step back and reflect on how our programs and organization can provide greater value to members. I am really pleased with the direction we are headed; now we just have to keep building momentum. As a side benefit, it also gives a chance for our officers to bond together and create some important team dynamics. I really look forward to it every year.


In addition to normal price increases due to inflation, what factors are driving up the cost of equipment, maintenance, staffing and other business expenses? Are the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting pricing in the industry?

The truckload industry is currently suffering through one of the worst markets we have seen in some time. After all-time highs through the pandemic, it didn’t take long for the bottom to fall out. While rates dropped farther and faster than anything we have possibly ever seen, costs within the industry continued to climb. This has put a lot of carriers at risk.

While I am not an economist, I have learned a few things about cost over the past three decades. When you talk about equipment prices for example, there are a couple of buckets you need to understand, including raw materials, margins, labor, and regulation. We are starting to see relief on raw materials after the COVID years and world conflicts took raw material inflation to extreme highs. That alone should start to bring cost relief, although it may not show up right away.

Some manufacturers that are still seeing strong demand may keep those raw material savings to bolster margins; they may only give those savings up when they see a softening of demand. Manufacturers may also keep those raw materials savings to offset higher labor costs. Those higher labor costs are affected by many different factors, including the supply-and-demand balance within the workforce, cost-of-living pressures, and pressure on local minimum wages in many states, just to name a few.

Another wild card in equipment costs is environmental regulation. Each new regulation puts upward pressure on equipment costs. With several new standards coming over the next few years, it could be a bumpy ride.


TCA and many of its members are active participants in nonprofit initiatives, such as The Wall That Heals and Wreaths Across America. Please share a little bit about the association’s involvement with these organizations.

One of the things I really appreciate about the trucking industry is that we have good people. Many of the owners of companies are self-made and down to earth. They also recognize the importance of giving back. The TCA officers and staff are continually evaluating how we can effectively give back to the communities we serve. With many of our drivers and office staff having served in the military, programs such as the Wall That Heals and Wreaths Across America provide an opportunity to give back and honor those who served. Even for those who didn’t serve in the military, there are strong feelings associated with this great country. We appreciate what we have and want to instill that in future generations.

In addition to these programs, the TCA Scholarship Fund provides meaningful education dollars to the up-and-coming generation. We have been in discussions about potentially expanding the reach of those dollars to include vocational education needs, including mechanics. There is a growing need for trained mechanics in our industry, and I think we are in a position to adapt — and at least participate in solving that need.


In addition to the topics noted in previous questions, what issues are top of mind for the trucking industry at this point?

I think the most pressing issue in my mind right now is the financial health of our members. With the truckload market embroiled in a tough cycle, this is a time when membership in the TCA should be most valuable. Carriers have a chance to really examine their companies to make sure best practices are actually being followed. Our benchmarking programs and seminars allow carriers to really see where they are doing well … and where they still need some work.

We continue to push for favorable tax policies at the federal level. We are cautiously optimistic that we may finally see some relief on the Federal Excise Tax. This will be important in the short term, giving cost relief to member companies. It will also provide the ability for companies to better afford safety technologies and emissions reducing technologies down the road. Every little bit helps.


Thank you for your time, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to our next conversation.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2023 edition of Truckload Authority, the official publication of the Truckload Carriers Association.

linda gardner bunch

Linda Garner-Bunch has been in publishing for more than 30 years. You name it, Linda has written about it. She has served as an editor for a group of national do-it-yourself publications and has coordinated the real estate section of Arkansas’ only statewide newspaper, in addition to working on a variety of niche publications ranging from bridal magazines to high-school sports previews and everything in between. She is also an experienced photographer and copy editor who enjoys telling the stories of the “Knights of the Highway,” as she calls our nation’s truck drivers.

Avatar for Linda Garner-Bunch
Linda Garner-Bunch has been in publishing for more than 30 years. You name it, Linda has written about it. She has served as an editor for a group of national do-it-yourself publications and has coordinated the real estate section of Arkansas’ only statewide newspaper, in addition to working on a variety of niche publications ranging from bridal magazines to high-school sports previews and everything in between. She is also an experienced photographer and copy editor who enjoys telling the stories of the “Knights of the Highway,” as she calls our nation’s truck drivers.
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