Emptying the notebook from the Truckload Carriers Association annual meeting in Las Vegas:

— Well, they did it. When the TCA met in Orlando, Florida, in early March 2020, there were disquieting signs that the world might be in for a bit of a rough ride. The meeting went ahead anyway, and TCA later reported that it had no reports of the coronavirus then (it wasn’t yet known as COVID-19). Then everybody went home to a world that changed radically over the next 10 days. The group’s original plan to meet in Nashville, Tennessee, in the early part of 2021 was scrapped in favor of the ultimate destination for this meeting, the Wynn Hotel and Convention Center on the Las Vegas Strip. The booths were sold out, attendance was about 1,100, and masks were generally worn in the hallways while making the looooong journey from hotel to convention center and generally removed upon entering a meeting room. And all anybody could talk about was how glad they were to be out meeting people once again. There have been smaller regional meetings in trucking, and TCA has held well-attended in-person subcommittee meetings, according to Jim Ward, TCA chairman and president of D.M. Bowman. But the TCA meeting in Las Vegas seems likely to have been the industry’s biggest post-pandemic gathering so far.

— Vaccines were on a lot of people’s minds. Of course, the banter was anecdotal about what companies are going to do since the specifics of President Joe Biden’s plan to require vaccinations or regular testing of workers in businesses with more than 100 employees haven’t been published yet. One supposed approach some companies of a certain size are discussing: Put your dry van operations in one new company, put refrigerated in another and flatbed in a third, with the goal that each of the companies would have fewer than 100 employees and therefore vaccines wouldn’t be mandated. The TCA itself has not outright said it is against the mandate, but its statement soon after the outline of the mandate was released clearly pointed to opposition. In a brief panel discussion with other TCA leaders, John Elliott, CEO of Load 1 and second vice chair of TCA, said TCA was not planning on fighting the mandate per se, “but we need to have a seat at the table and a voice upfront, so they understand what as an industry we need.” He added that the statement and the TCA’s quest for that “seat at the table” probably would not have occurred in the past.

— TCA is still looking for a new president. The search is expected to wrap up by the first quarter. One unfortunate note: John Lyboldt, the outgoing president, wasn’t in Las Vegas because of an illness that was described as not COVID (since these days, that qualifier seems to go with every report of somebody being sick). So he missed the final annual meeting of the organization during his tenure, one which saw him steer the group to record membership. (That figure, somewhere in the 750-to-800-member range, came up often during the course of the meeting).

— Someone else who didn’t attend in person was Meera Joshi. Joshi, the deputy administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the nominee to head the agency, did send a video address. But the head of FMCSA is generally a speaker at the TCA annual meeting. Joshi, however, is in the process of gaining confirmation for the job and thus cannot be described as the FMCSA administrator. In her remarks, Joshi said that she would “not attempt to resolve the vaccination issue,” but that it was necessary for the trucking industry to “engage our perspective” on vaccination. She said vaccinations and trucking capacity were the two key issues that the industry was facing. Earlier in the meeting, Harold Sumerford, first vice chairman of the American Trucking Associations, spoke mostly positively about Joshi, whom he has dealt with through his role at ATA. “She asks lots of questions but wants data to back it up,” he said. “She’s a smart person and asks the right things.” Regarding his dealings with Joshi, Sumerford said, “We were able to speak very bluntly with her.”

— Ward also addressed the relationship between ATA and TCA, which he described as solid. “Over the years, there’s been some challenges in the ATA-TCA relationship,” he conceded. But TCA and ATA officials have been meeting weekly, he said, with positive results.

— The most uplifting few minutes of the more than three days of the TCA meeting was the presentation of TCA’s Highway Angel of the Year award. The TCA designated 75 “Angels” in the past year for their heroic efforts on the road in helping others. But it was Royford Burris of Stevens Transport who was awarded the top designation. The story is about as horrific as you can imagine. Burris was driving a load to Orlando on U.S. Highway 63 in Arkansas when he came upon a multicar wreck. Several people died, including a mother and her young child. But the woman also had a teenage daughter, and Burris kicked in a window and rescued the injured girl. Burris walked to the podium amid a standing ovation. “I can’t even talk about it because there is nothing good,” he said. “It was the worst moment in my life.” But he profusely thanked the audience and the TCA for their recognition. 

Angel of the Year Royford Burris walks to the podium

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