The Truckload Carriers Association is going to come out of the shadows.

Not that it was invisible. But the leaders of the organization have launched a new push — to call it a program might be misleading — to help ensure the voice of the truckload sector gets more widely heard in public discussion of issues that impact trucking, as well as seeking to become more of the public voice of the truckload sector of the industry.

In an interview at the recently completed annual meeting of the TCA in Las Vegas, John Elliott, the CEO of Load One and first vice chair of the TCA, said the launch of the initiative is “something that has percolated over time, for a number of years, as the organization continues to move forward.”

If you’re looking for a catch name of the effort, or a physical representation like an advertisement, don’t bother; there aren’t any.

But if you need to see the effort in action, it is probably best embodied in the TCA’s statement on the potential COVID-19 vaccine mandate that would require inoculation at all companies with more than 100 employees.

The mandate has been met with unhappiness in the trucking industry, and it was evident at the TCA meeting. The TCA (and the American Trucking Associations) did not outright oppose it. But the TCA’s statement made it clear the organization wasn’t a fan of the proposed rule. 

Elliott said the TCA several years ago would have been unlikely to put out such a public statement had the issue arisen.

TCA is not working the new outreach effort by itself. It has hired the public relations firm of LaunchIt, led by Susan Fall, who has a long list of clients in the trucking sector.

But now, he said in an interview with FreightWaves at the TCA meeting, “we’ve started to ramp up our advocacy and started to project the organization.” Fall said the statement on the vaccination mandate was sent “proactively to let the mainstream media know we are a voice available to talk.”

Even though the statements of both the ATA and TCA reflect a negative view of the vaccine mandate, Elliott noted that there are parts of ATA that wouldn’t need to deal with some of the specific issues that the truckload sector is concerned about. 

For example, it is expected that an unvaccinated employee can meet the requirements of the mandate (though the formal rules have yet to be published) through regular testing. But while such a rule might not be considered too tremendous a burden to an LTL carrier, whose drivers work out of a terminal and do not spend weeks on the road at a time, it’s a rule that “is not applicable or functional to our industry, especially when you have a driver shortage,” Elliott said. “It is absolutely not the time to take possibly 10 or 15 percent of the driver force out of the market. I can’t imagine the consequences for this country.”

Fall, who sat in on the interview with Elliott, said the effort has involved more outreach to the national media to discuss the organization’s stance on the infrastructure bill as well as its concerns regarding the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate.

With Elliott declaring the supply chain “probably more constrained than anytime since World War II,” Fall said “it is our job to explain that to the general public.”

The leadership of the TCA has evolved in recent years, Elliott said, “and we’re in a very similar mindset now on common goals and visions.” The senior leadership of the group “just kept coming back to the fact that we just aren’t getting out there,” Elliott said. One problem is that “getting out there” was not a “skill set” that the group had. That is one of the reasons why it turned to Fall for expertise.

With the recent boost that the pandemic may have given to the public perception of truck drivers, the TCA wants to build on that. 

“[Drivers] have been putting themselves out there and facing the unknown in having to deal with everything from no bathrooms to no restaurants to keep this country going through what was an historical, landmark time,” Elliott said. 

Despite that improvement in public perception, Elliott said the trucking industry “doesn’t do well in projecting our story to the news media.” The effort is good inside the trucking “bubble” but needs to be wider, he said.

But TCA doesn’t always get a chance to tell that story. Any look at a story in the mainstream media about trucking shows a familiar pattern: When the reporter wants a quote about trucking from what would be considered the industry’s establishment, the first phone call goes to ATA. It rarely comes to TCA.

Fall added that she needs to explain the difference between the TCA and the ATA, which she described as a “great partner.” Elliott is also a vice president of ATA.

But truckload is the biggest block of members at ATA, and there are sometimes differences of opinion between the two organizations, Fall said. 

Fall said that the challenge now before the TCA is “to let the national media know that we are the ones who represent truckload, and we are having to explain it.”

Recent national coverage of Driver Appreciation Week was encouraging, Fall said, citing interviews that were done at rest stops by large media organizations. 

Although the initiative doesn’t have a formal name, Fall laid out several areas of truckload strength that it expects to focus on: use of advanced technology; “extreme attention to safety”; the “goodwill of drivers,” citing the TCA’s Highway Angel program that recognizes helpful and sometimes lifesaving assistance dispensed by drivers on the road as well as the more than $140,000 in scholarship money handed out in the past year alone; and “the essentiality of the industry.”

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