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At the Truck Stop: This expediter’s loads are light and so are his spirits

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At the truck stop: this expediter’s loads are light and so are his spirits

Seeing Ray Shamel standing in line at the Petro truck stop off Interstate 40, exit 161, near Little Rock, Arkansas, you could almost mistake him for a professional truck driver. He looks the part. And he’s obviously at home at a truck stop.

Then again, he’s got a little more pep in his step, he’s a little less bedraggled than most truckers are as they take care of business and life’s necessities. He’s quick to smile and to start a conversation wherever he finds one. He’s relaxed rather than weary.

There’s a simple explanation for the similarities and the differences, and he’s happy to reveal it.

“I’m an expediter,” he said with a wide grin, as though he had just revealed a plot twist to a mystery. He’s a professional driver, all right, but instead of a big rig, he drives a sprinter-style van for Barrett DirectLine Expedited Service, based in Bentonville, Arkansas.

“I haul small freight,” Shamel said. “I can haul up to three skids.” When someone has a small load that has to get somewhere quickly, that’s the niche expediters like Barrett fills, anywhere in the Lower 48, although, “usually we stay in the freight lanes, normally east of the Mississippi, mostly.”

Shamel has been driving for Barrett for about a year. Before that, he’d driven a straight truck near his home in Davison, Michigan, a suburb of Flint about 65 miles north-northwest of Detroit.

“I always liked driving, but my kids were young and at home, so I stayed at home and worked local until my kids were grown,” he said. “So now I decided to get out and see the country, drive and make money doing it.”

The way Shamel describes it, with expediting, he enjoys the best aspects of long-haul driving without a lot of the headaches. Take all that angst about Hours of Service, especially since ELDs became mandatory. Shamel has been following the issue, though none of it applies to him.

“We manage our own time, so we’re more able to stop where we want,” he said. When it is time to stop, he doesn’t have hunt for parking like he would with an 18-wheeler. His van has a pulldown bed, so he can get a room or just park somewhere.

“If I want to pull into a roadside park and get some sleep, a truck may not be able to get in, but I can do that.”

Ask almost any driver about the best aspects of being an OTR driver, and they will tell you it’s the chance to see the country.

“In a van, you can get more places that you want to see,” Shamel said. “Let’s say I’ve got a delivery near Niagara Falls, and I’ve always wanted to see it. Once I drop that, I go out of service for a day or 12 hours or whatever, I can go, take a look, take some pictures, enjoy myself, enjoy my day.”

Or suppose he’s out West and wants to take a short detour and see the Grand Canyon. Would he be able to maneuver those narrow, winding national park roads in a semi?

No driver likes to deadhead, but with his fuel costs being just a tiny fraction of what it would be driving a tractor-trailer, it’s not as big a deal if he decides he doesn’t want to wait to get home.

Like any driver with a family, being away from home can be the most depressing downside of the job. Shamel is out on the road for three to four weeks at a time. But he and his wife have more quality time now that he’s on the road.

“When I was working a regular job at home, I was driving long hours,” Shamel said. “I’d get home, my wife worked third shift. I’d get home either right after she left for work or right before she left. And then she’d be gone all night. We had to fight for moments to have time together.

“Now that I’m an independent contractor running through a carrier, I’m able to come in and go out of service whenever I want. If my wife says, ‘I have a two-week vacation in June, do you want to do something?’ we can book a cruise. I’m able to work it round her schedule now so every moment that she has off, I’m able to be there with her.”

Expediters have a tight community out on the road. Shamel belongs to Facebook group called Transportation Life: Wheels, Wings and Rudders, They number about 3,000 members.

“It’s like having this huge extended family of fellow expediters,” he said. So even though you’re away from home, you have friends that are out here. We’re able to meet up, you know, have dinner somewhere.”

It’s a nice feeling to pull up somewhere and see a couple of vans. “There’s a lot of women out here who are solo,” he said. “If they’re in an area with other members of the community they might feel safer.”

Then he added, honestly, it’s comforting even if you’re a guy to know you’re among friends.

Shamel had been sitting in Little Rock and had just gotten a call. In just a couple of minutes he’d be heading out to pick up a load to take to Louisville, Kentucky.

After that? Who knows, but that’s part of the fun.

 

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The Nation

House endorses adopting California AB5 provisions at federal level

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U.s. house of representatives passes pro act; endorses adopting california ab5 law at federal level
Owner-operators and carriers are weary of California's AB5 morphing into federal law. Introduced as the PRO Act, the proposed legislation will have far-reaching impacts on all sectors of the trucking industry.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation similar to California’s AB5 law in that it requires employers to prove that independent contractors used in conducting business should not be classified as employees. The controversial California law, as applied to the trucking industry, is currently under an injunction imposed by a U.S. District Court judge that prohibits its enforcement. California-based carriers, the California Trucking Association (CTA) and owner-operators doing business in the state, as well as trucking organizations on national and state levels, have all publicly opposed AB5. The Trucker previously reported that industry leaders feared a law like AB5 would spread beyond California’s borders. With Congress considering the “Protecting the Right to Organize” (PRO) Act (HR 2474), those fears appear credible.

As widely discussed in trucking-industry circles, AB5 places the burden upon employers when classifying workers as employees or independent contractors. If a worker’s circumstances do not pass all components of a three-prong test, the individual is deemed an employee, a classification impacting company operations and the individual’s ability to choose working status. For this reason, many owner-operators who entered the business for its self-employment opportunities oppose AB5.

The federal PRO legislation incorporates the same tests imposed under AB5 and applies them nationwide. CTA contends that AB5 is prohibited under federal law, an argument with which the judge ruling in favor of the request for an injunction was noted as appearing to agree. With the injunction in place, the PRO Act could be considered a case of amending federal law for the purpose of allowing a state law to be enforceable.

The language in the federal act as included in Section 2(a)(2) defines an employee under the same terms as discussed in AB5. As with the California law, the sticking point relates to the (B) prong of the test. Under the (B) prong, a company cannot hire an independent contractor to perform tasks, inherent to the company’s business, which other employees already perform. A carrier in the business of moving freight and employing individuals who move freight could not hire an independent contractor to perform similar tasks.

Should PRO receive U.S. Senate approval, something political pundits doubt is possible, it would be passed to President Donald Trump to either sign into law or veto. Of the two, a veto seems most likely, as the administration has stated PRO “appears to cut and paste the core provisions of California’s controversial AB5, which severely restricts self-employment. AB5 is actively threatening the existence of both the franchise business sector and the gig economy in California. It would be a serious mistake for Congress to impose this flawed job-killing policy on the entire country.”

Truckers nationwide should remain in tune with further action on PRO. It may impact many careers.

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OKC police confirm security guard who shot truck driver at TA has died by suicide

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police lights stock photo
A security guard who discharged his weapon, shooting a truck driver during an altercation at an Oklahoma City TA Travel Center, has taken his own life.

OKLAHOMA CITY — A security guard who shot a truck driver earlier this month during an altercation with a truck driver in Oklahoma City has died by suicide.

Sgt. Brad Gilmore, assistant public-information officer with the Oklahoma City Police Department, confirmed that 45-year-old George Bischoff went to a local shooting range, Big Boys Guns, Ammo & Range, on Feb. 20 around 1:35 p.m. and took his own life with a single, self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Bischoff had been questioned twice regarding an altercation that took place Feb. 14 around 4:30 a.m. in which he confronted a truck driver, 42-year-old Paul Sisk, at a TA Travel Center in Oklahoma City regarding a reserved parking space.

“Somewhere during that altercation, it became physical and the security guard fired one shot, hitting the truck driver,” Gilmore said. “The truck driver was transported to a local hospital, where he was treated and has since been released.”

Gilmore said the security guard was initially questioned following the incident but at that time, Gilmore said, police had not yet had a chance to talk to the truck driver.

“The security guard was brought back in and questioned again, and we were in the process of discussing the case with the district attorney’s office; and on our end, charges had not been filed,” Gilmore said.

Gilmore could not confirm whether the gun used at the range was rented or owned by Bischoff, but he said local news outlets have reported that the gun was rented.  Gilmore said the incident remains under investigation.

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Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse identifies nearly 8,000 substance-abuse violations

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Fmcsa’s drug and alcohol clearinghouse identifies nearly 8,000 substance-abuse violations in first weeks of operation
FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse program is designed to improve road safety by identifying drivers who are barred from driving commercial vehicles due to drug violations. (iStock photo)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released data on Feb. 21 following the first weeks of operation of its Commercial Driver’s License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. The information released showed the clearinghouse has detected and identified nearly 8,000 positive substance-abuse tests of commercial drivers since Jan. 6. The clearinghouse now has more than 650,000 registrants.

“We’ve seen encouraging results from the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, but there’s still work to do to ensure we identify more drivers who should not be behind the wheel. The clearinghouse is a positive step, and the Agency continues to work closely with industry, law enforcement, and our state partners to ensure its implementation is effective,” said Jim Mullen, FMCSA acting administrator.

The clearinghouse is aimed at improving road safety by providing FMCSA and employers with the necessary tools to identify drivers who have violated federal drug and alcohol testing program requirements and are prohibited from operating a commercial motor vehicle. The goal of the clearinghouse is to ensure that such drivers receive the required evaluation and treatment before they have the opportunity to resume driving.

Those required to register for the clearinghouse include:

  • Employers of commercial driver’s license (CDL) and commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders, or their designated service agents, and medical review officers who report drug and alcohol program violations that occurred on or after Jan. 6, 2020;
  • Employers or their designated service agents who conduct required queries that inform them whether prospective or current employees have drug and alcohol program violations in their clearinghouse records. Employers must purchase a query plan before conducting queries in the clearinghouse – query plans must be purchased from the FMCSA clearinghouse website only;
  • Drivers who respond to employer consent requests or would like to view their clearinghouse record when applying for a job; and
  • Substance abuse professionals who report on the completion of driver initial assessments and driver eligibility for return-to-duty testing for violations committed on or after Jan. 6, 2020.

There is no cost for registration. Commercial drivers are not required to immediately register for the clearinghouse but will need to register to respond to an employer’s request for consent prior to a pre-employment query or other full query being conducted. In addition, employers must be registered during the first year of implementation to ensure they are able to conduct the required annual query on all employed drivers.

Combatting drug abuse has been a top priority of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Trump Administration. President Trump has brought attention to the nation’s opioid crisis by declaring it a nationwide public health emergency and has implemented critical federal initiatives to help reduce opioid abuse.

For information about FMCSA’s clearinghouse program, including user brochures and instructional aids with step-by-step registration instructions, visit clearinghouse.fmcsa.dot.gov.

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