Friday, May 21, 2010

The final stretch

Jasmine Jordan is less than 400 miles from entering Times Square in New York City – her goal in what will be a 10-month journey.

That’s about 594,000 strides, and roughly two pairs of pink Saucony running shoes – quite a distance for most people.

17-year-old Jasmine, however, has proved she’s cut from rare cloth.

Jasmine, who also goes by Jazzy, is running from California to New York to raise awareness of truckers who lack medical insurance. She is also raising money for the St. Christopher Truckers Development and Relief Fund.

Her parents, OOIDA Members Lee and Paulette Jordan, have put their own trucking careers partially on hold since last September to help Jazzy accomplish her dream.

Lee Jordan said Friday, May 21, that the family expects to be wrapping up the trip in mid-June.

“We’re coming down to the end here,” Lee said. “We’re encouraging truckers and everyone to donate to the St. Christopher Fund.”

OOIDA is donating $10,000 to the St. Christopher Fund, made in Jazzy’s name. Be sure to check Land Line Magazine’s Web news for Friday’s story.

Besides raising awareness for SCF, the Jordans have gotten to meet many OOIDA members, and helpful members of law enforcement and emergency response agencies who have supported and encouraged the runner.

Sgt. Stan Ricks of the Nash County, NC, Sheriff’s Department, personally escorted Lee and Jazzy for several days last week, including at least two days on his own time.

Ricks even ran with Jazzy for several miles, Lee said.

“He could hardly go to work the next day because he hurt so bad,” Lee said. “He said, ‘Your 17-year-old whooped my butt without even throwing a punch.’ But what a great, great guy he is. We were very blessed to come across him.”

But the trip has had its share of harsh realities as well.

The Jordan family has made many personal sacrifices along the way, including recently losing Lee’s truck when another car slammed into it as they were preparing to have Jazzy run in North Carolina.

Paulette, who was headed to Texas at the time, said it was difficult for her to not turn around and head East to check on her daughter.

“That was very tough,” Paulette said.

Two weeks later, Lee and Jazzy are still sore from the accident, though Jazzy has continued to run 15 to 20 miles most days.

On Friday, Lee was gathering his generator, fifth wheel hitch and other equipment to put on his replacement truck, courtesy of Jordan Enterprises. Paulette came over from Pennsylvania with a Jordan Enterprises employee to deliver the new truck Lee will use to complete Jazzy’s run.

“It’s only a couple of days, but I’m sure glad to be able to see her,” Paulette said. “I will be very glad when she is done and is home with me.”

But e-mails and letters of support from truckers spur the family on.

One such trucker is OOIDA Member Ed Drum of Mentor, OH, who lost 120 pounds after being inspired by Jazzy. His story and others spur the Jordans on, Lee said.

“Jazzy is his hero,” Lee said on Friday. “He even got permission from his company to go out of route to bring Jazzy some water and fruit, and share his story with her. Stuff like that – it’s good for her to hear, and good for me to hear for inspiration. The word is spreading.”

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Doc shopping making a comeback?

Improving the health of truck drivers industry-wide is a noble cause – and something that needs to happen. The average life expectancy of truck drivers is age 61. That’s 13 years shorter than for the average adult.

The devil is in the details when it comes down to how to go about improving truck driver health.

Right now, sleep apnea is the hot button issue drawing all of the attention. No one can argue that individuals with sleep apnea need to discuss treatment options with their personal health care providers. At best, going without treatment leaves these folks feeling like they’re not on the top of their game. At worst? It can lead to death.

Now there is an attempt to tie sleep apnea to highway safety. There are meetings on it. There are conferences on it. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is moving forward to see if there really is a link. Still others don’t want to wait around and just want a one-size-fits-all mandate for testing if certain indicators exist because it’s “common sense.”

Anytime you start toying around with regulating an individual’s health, you have to consider the unintended consequences.

I can assure you, a heavy-handed approach is going to have more people in need of sleep apnea treatment fearing for their jobs than for their health. The fear of losing their jobs will drive them underground, so to say.

It would be a lot like things were for diabetics years ago. If you were put on insulin, you were put off the road. Period. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

There were plenty of drivers whose diabetes raged out of control because they hid the need for treatment. They would lie to their doctors. They might even find a doctor who wouldn’t report them or worse yet some back alley clinic without any real training.

Those who did seek treatment usually went and found a second non-DOT doctor, paid out of pocket, and hoped they weren’t found out.

It was the dirty little secret of diabetes in the trucking industry.

Finally, the prohibition was lifted and an exemption for individuals with managed diabetes was added to the books.

Know what happened next?

Drivers by the droves came clean with their doctors about their diabetes-related concerns. Many who had been limping along without insulin were given a new lease on life.

There’s more than one way to improve the health of truckers in the industry. And I certainly hope that we find a way that truthfully achieves it – before we do something stupid and set driver health more than a few steps backward.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

For OOIDA, NAFTA’s still a ‘top drawer’ mission

For many years, one of my reporting “beats” for Land Line was NAFTA. I covered it from the early ’90s until our Senior Editor Jami Jones joined our staff in 2004. In her first week, I handed over an armload of files.

Fifteen pounds of files moved from my top drawer to her top drawer, and she officially inherited all things NAFTA. Of all the issues we cover, NAFTA still occupies the most file drawer space. At OOIDA, getting the trucking provisions right has simply been an immense mission.

“When Mexican trucks are allowed to operate in the U.S., they will be required to follow virtually all the same regulations that U.S. truckers do.”

We’ve heard these words for nearly two decades – and while some progress has been made, it’s obvious that truck safety isn’t a priority in Mexico.

Looking back at our early coverage, it was a developing situation that demanded 10 times the hours in research that it did to report. Understanding the implications for truckers was complicated. But at my desk at OOIDA headquarters, I was in the best place a reporter could be.

When President George H.W. Bush declared NAFTA negotiations complete on Aug. 12, 1992 – it was already under fire by OOIDA President Jim Johnston. OOIDA executives, our board members, attorneys and our regulatory people had already been making trips to the border and beyond to learn what we could.

I recall Jim and Todd poring over the Land Transportation-related provisions of NAFTA and the alarm bells going off over the obvious inequities for U.S. truckers.

NAFTA was going to hugely complicate trucking.

One of our board members was a cattle hauler from Texas. He testified before numerous congressional committees and subcommittees, telling them about the 21 trips he made to Mexico City hauling livestock. Charles Holman knew more about the Mexican trucks, the roads and the drivers than any task force.

For guys like Holman, it must have been astounding for FHWA – the then-agency watchdogging trucking – to be telling truckers how it was in Mexico and how everything was going to be so great.

In January 1993, President Clinton was sworn in, inheriting NAFTA. We knew he was lukewarm over some aspects of the agreement, but he was a centrist – trying to make all sides come together. Plus, the pressure was on for quick approval of the whole thing.

In a measure designed to step up full consent, Mexico used a tactic that it likes to employ. It began enforcing a 33 percent tariff on goods purchased in the U.S. and carried into Mexico by Mexican citizens.

We reported that the tariffs sparked a heated protest at border crossings and resulted in a 50 percent reduction in business in border towns like Laredo. It was a full court press for a fast OK – sort of like the tariff bullying they are doing now.

Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act in December 1993 after it was passed by Congress. In January 1994, NAFTA officially went into effect.

Things were quiet at first, with the FHWA saying the only impact on trucking was the Mexican ban on 53-foot trailers. Mexico quickly lifted that ban, making an allowance for them to travel into Mexican border states.

The president of Mexico at that time was Carlos Salinas De Gortari. When U.S. trucking interests began to raise concerns on issues that lacked clarity in the agreement, he flatly stated that negotiations were closed and “any adjustments should be carried out by the businessmen involved within the framework of the agreement.”

OOIDA expressed to President Clinton grave concerns over safety implications and the effect of lower paid Mexican drivers. The latter issue was also the focus of the Teamsters.

I recall the summer of 1994 as a volatile one. Federico Peña was the U.S. Secretary of Transportation at that time for the Clinton administration. By then, the devil’s details regarding NAFTA and the trucking industry were erupting in full force.

Hailing the creation of “the largest and richest free trade zone in the world” was one thing; doing it efficiently while maintaining safety standards, security, etc. was another. Washington was teeming with activity related to NAFTA’s impact on transportation.

We were engulfed in a quagmire of summits, briefings and meetings where the government was saying “this is going to be SO swell” and the people actually assigned to plan and implement the cross-border trucking were saying “how the hell are we supposed to do this?”

Our executive VP Todd Spencer was in Texas in the spring of 1994. He was at a rally in Buda, TX, where he was a speaker, along with Peña. NAFTA wasn’t the only talking point, but given the time and place, it was a hot topic. Todd came back and said the word was that Clinton wasn’t sure about the wisdom of letting Mexican trucks “come across.”

Dec. 17, 1995, was on the calendar as the big day. Mexico and the U.S. were due to allow unlimited cross-border access within the border states of both countries for the delivery and backhaul of international cargo.

Does anyone remember that day? On the morning it was supposed to happen, we had OOIDA members there in Laredo, reporting to us the action, or lack of. Todd’s info was on target.

Without notice, President Clinton delayed it. It was reported to be because of the pressure of OOIDA, Teamsters, as well as environmental and consumer safety folks.

During those early years, OOIDA had the best eyes and ears of all watching Mexican trucks both on the border and deep into the interior. We had truckers. We had photos, anecdotal stories and actual incidents. My NAFTA files had grown to nearly one-third of the top drawer of my huge file cabinet.

One of OOIDA’s regulatory people spent some time in Mexico interviewing Mexican drivers, who told us that while the Mexican government claimed to have regulations, that wasn’t necessarily the end of it. For instance, the Mexican government told us it had weight regulations, but Mexican drivers would tell us “nobody ever weighs us.”

I recall doing a story titled “Trucking in Mexico: the way it’s supposed to be and the way it is.” It was based on information gathered by OOIDA’s Director of Regulatory Affairs, who was sent to Mexico by Jim Johnston.

I also recall a number of meetings either on the border or in Mexico, including a CVSA Senior Strategic Advisory Committee meeting in Ixtapa, Mexico, which was attended by Jim Johnston. That was about 1996 or 97, when Phil Vasquez was president of CVSA.

Although CVSA was OK with opening the border – and that was a surprise – many were not, including members of Congress. More than 225 members of Congress signed letters to Clinton urging him to keep the border limitations in place until the president could guarantee the American people that Mexican truckers can and will operate safely in the United States. A number of those congressional seats have changed, but the will of the lawmakers has not. They still feel the same.

This week – as we anticipate an announcement from the Obama administration regarding a new plan for cross-border trucking – it’s hard to think it’s been more than 18 years that OOIDA has been actively battling half-baked provisions of this trade “agreement.” During those years, OOIDA has fought it on all levels – in the regulatory arena, before Congress and in the court.

And there’s still plenty of room in that top drawer.

Sometimes you’re the windshield …

Ah, springtime. For many, it means long days spent barbecuing or hanging out at the beach. But for truckers hauling in the South, this year’s balmiest season will also include one very unwanted accessory – lovebugs.

No, we’re not talking about 1960s Volkswagens here. The lovebug – also known as Plecia nearctica in the entomological community – is a small, black bug that, until recent years, was native only to Central America.

Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell the little pest to stay in its homeland, and drivers in Florida and throughout the southern part of the country are paying the price for the critter’s recent immigration to the U.S., especially during its mating season in the spring and late summer months. And now is one of those special times.

According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a single, quarter-inch-long lovebug can create a pretty big mess on its own. The problem is, this is one romantic insect, and the males and females tend to be, um, rather attached to one another while in flight a lot of the time. Does its name make a little more sense now?

Besides the fact that a giant chunk of bug gunk flying through the air can wreak havoc on windshields and clog radiator fins, the insect’s acidic insides have also been known to score glass and eat through paint if they aren’t washed off promptly.

If it weren’t so disgusting, a lovebug stain on your bumper might even be considered romantic – sort of like “Romeo and Juliet” for the insect world.

Editor’s note: This previously ran in the August 2006 issue of Land Line Magazine. It was written by Aaron Ladage. However, with lovebugs in, ummm, season we couldn’t help but share it again.