Friday, June 26, 2009

OOIDA’s food fight

Major players in the food supply chain often get together to share knowledge and information about ways to protect the nation’s food supply. But for years, they’ve left out the people who have a huge role in food safety and security – the small-business truckers who haul the majority of the nation’s fresh food and produce.

But that’s changing, thanks to the persistence of OOIDA.

Recent positive developments offer a perfect example of how OOIDA works to not only give truckers a voice, but also to raise the nation’s level of awareness on how important the driver’s role can be.

With our “food fight” as an example, here’s the way it has happened:

In September 2006, a massive recall of contaminated spinach left produce-hauling members stuck with contaminated loads. They communicated their frustrations with their professional association.

The bigger picture then and now is that truckers can’t get anyone of importance to listen when they rave about the gap in the food safety chain. The facts of what is happening to the food while it’s in transit are ignored.

Regulatory specialists here at OOIDA have taken up the issue. It really pushes buttons with Regulatory Specialist Joe Rajkovacz, who hauled produce for years. He’s got the expertise and the passion.

In the case of the contaminated spinach, OOIDA’s media arm – specifically Land Line Staff Writer Clarissa Kell-Holland – initiated an investigation. Once she was on the food safety trail, she was a bulldog. Mother of three, she’s a safe-food zealot. Her investigations have resulted in a number of acclaimed investigative articles on how food safety honchos have unwisely ignored the role that truckers play.

Joe, meanwhile, has tried to get OOIDA a place at the discussion table. The Association has sent him to meetings coast-to-coast where he gives the big picture to anyone who will listen.

Three years later, people in administrative positions ARE listening. Suddenly, they get it – and that’s a HUGE step.

Earlier this summer, a large attendance at the Association of Food and Drug Officials conference in Oak Brook, IL, asked Joe to give the transportation perspective on critical issues affecting the supply chain regarding food safety and security. Of course, he was on his game. For many there, it was a real light bulb moment.

You can read Clarissa’s Special Report on any of our OOIDA Web sites this week, or click here.

I want to say that as a staffer here at OOIDA, I am proud of the critical developments in the area of safe food. It’s extremely rewarding to be a part of something that has the potential to make a positive action that will affect every single citizen of our nation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Trucking goes to the dogs

“Scratch a dog and you’ll find a permanent job.” – Franklin P. Jones

If I’ve learned anything working for OOIDA and Land Line, it’s that trucking is hard work, probably 10 times harder than it looks. It’s like the world is against you – four-wheelers zipping around your truck; anti-idling laws keeping you hot in the summer and freezing in the winter; mountains of paperwork for your truck, your CDL and each load you haul; headaches from brokers, law enforcement, shippers and receivers. What a pain in the … butt.

With all the difficulties in the industry, it’s so nice to take a break and have a little fun, and maybe look at trucking in a different way. That’s perhaps why truck beauty shows like SuperRigs were created.

Last week was the first time I’ve attended a SuperRigs show, and it was really great to see that trucking isn’t always tough times and rotten deals.

The trucks were beautiful, and I was so amazed by the fact that they’re working trucks and trailers. I think it takes a special type of dedication and love for the business to maintain such a gorgeous working vehicle.

I have a confession, though. While I came for the trucks, I stayed for the pets. The moment I learned those clever SuperRigs people would be holding a pet contest, there was no way I was going to miss it.

Despite the miserable humidity and heat, nine pets competed in five categories. The competition was hosted by Shell Rotella’s SuperRigs Coordinator Lindsey Benton with a little help from musician Joey Holiday, who loaned us his stage for the event.

There was a little barking, a bit of shedding and a lot of slobbering, but they were all good sports. It could have been twice as hot and everyone still would have considered it totally fun.

The winners were chosen by audience applause and they are:

– Biggest Pet: Olde English Bulldogge Brandy and her human, Ed;

– Smallest Pet: Husband-and-wife team Chihuahuas Paco and Chica and their human, Ann;

– Smallest Pet Honorable Mention: Miniature Pinscher Judy and her human, David;

– Best Trick: Boston Terriers Turbo Diesel and Sweet Abigail who played dead with the help of their human, Bret;

– Best Trick Honorable Mention: Poodle Mindy who fetched a stuffed toy cat thrown by her human, Paul;

– Look-a-Like: Ed the human and Olde English Bulldogge, Brandy;

– Best in Show: Capuchin Monkey Layla and her human, Maria; and

– Pug-Chihuahua mix Jazz who also competed with his human, OOIDA tour truck co-driver Pam Hart.

You can follow Jazz and the tour truck, “The Spirit of the American Trucker” on Twitter.

For photos of all the competitors and their humans, click here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What’s that toll increase for anyway?

I could use some help on a basic math problem.

If a turnpike authority takes in $56.6 million in 2008 and pays out $30 million for maintenance, salaries and services … how much would tolls need to increase to make up for the shortfall?

Yeah, their math confuses me too, but that’s precisely what’s going on in West Virginia.

In fiscal year 2008, the West Virginia Turnpike took in $26.6 million more than it paid out, yet the Parkways Authority plans on increasing tolls by 60 percent for cars and trucks during a board vote July 1.

Parkways officials say they need $238 million over the next five years to repair and replace sections of the turnpike with an emphasis on bridges. More than 100 of the turnpike’s 116 bridges are older than 25 years, and two “major” bridges are older than 50 years.

Toll increases are their way of coming up with $238 million, but there’s another way to skin that cat. If they were to stretch their improvement plan to 10 years instead of five, and stay $26.6 million ahead each year, they would have $266 million and shouldn’t need a toll increase at all.

By that rationale, the turnpike would still have $28 million left over, which could be used to cover cost inflation and wage considerations for their 394 employees.

Public input is supposedly shaping the considerations as the authority’s board plans for the July 1 vote. Let’s hope enough people weigh in to make a difference.

Back on Dec. 4, 2008, I posed similar a similar math question to turnpike officials in Pennsylvania – a question about incoming cash, outgoing expenses and what should be left over. I didn’t get a direct answer on that one as people seemed perplexed that there would actually be money left over.

To me, if any quasi-government entity is already taking in more than it pays out, there’s no justification for a toll increase beyond the rate of inflation.