Steven Franzkowiak, an Atlanta-based electrical engineer, was among volunteers to the Andrew Yang campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination who attended part of That’s a Big 10-4 on D.C. early last month in Washington, D.C. He characterizes his experience there speaking with drivers about the Yang candidacy as among other things a “pretty hard sell” given the conservative nature of many in trucking.
Yet Yang has been sounding the alarm about trucking as among the next industries to be upended by automation, and though that subject has received attention from various quarters, Yang’s alone in invoking the issue specifically in the context of trucking as the 2020 presidential campaign season comes into full fruition.
After 10-4, though, Franzkowiak struck up a relationship with members of a some trucking Facebook groups, among them The Disrespected Trucker.
Today, November 4, a small group of truckers banded together in Lexington with support from a Yang campaign-supporting Super PAC (political action committee) — the Humanity Forward Fund. Their plan, to display support with their trucks throughout the afternoon ahead of a Donald Trump rally scheduled to take place in the Rupp Arena at the Lexington Convention Center.
Disrespected Trucker admin Jeremy Johnson, in a Facebook video posted last week, also invited Trump-supporting truckers to display their own banners alongside those with Yang banners in order to “show the country that we’re united as truckers regardless of what our political beliefs are … in order to make sure we get Trump’s attention” and to bring “media at the national level out” to “get them to pay attention to the American truck driver.”
I spoke with two participants, Ohio-based owner-operator Todd Campbell and Kentucky-based driver James Toller, this morning as they sat parked with two other trucks at the Fayette Mall with various banners displayed on their rigs.
Call it a creative way to get media attention at the national level to truckers’ issues, Toller and Campbell both suggested. “We rode around for a few miles this morning,” Toller said. “It’s amazing the response and the attention that we’re getting” by displaying Yang banners. “There was a lot of chatter about it on the radio when we ran up to Georgetown and back.”
“The main thing is the government’s not listening, they’re not talking to us as truckers,” Toller said. “Yang’s the only guy to run for office that talks trucking. If Trump comes into town and he sees that and he says– ‘Oh my lord I’m losing the trucking vote.’ Maybe he starts talking about trucking.”
The Humanity Forward Fund’s press release about the event pitched owner-operators as having for decades “endured unjust regulations created by government administrators who have never driven a truck or owned a small business. Owner-operator truck drivers represent the safest and most experienced drivers on the road, yet they are the most vulnerable to economic impacts, over-regulation and dirty politics.”
Among issues recognized, the release said ELDs “force truck drivers into unsafe work hours and practices by digitally micromanaging them.” It singled out introduced legislation that, if passed, would hike insurance, likewise the “false narrative around ‘driver shortages’” as large companies’ justification for “investment in autonomous solutions. The truth is that while fully automated truck driving would lead to $160 billion a year in savings, none of that profit would go toward the tens of thousands of truckers that are losing their livelihoods due to the rapid de-valuing of their skills.”
Part of Yang’s platform is to increase pay to regulators and ban them from subsequently working in the industries they regulate, the Humanity Forward release says, to incentivize individual donations to favored candidates as a counterbalance to big money, and to appoint a “trucking czar to ease the transition of autonomous trucks.”
Part of that “czar’s” mission: Overseeing a tax on gains from the adoption of autonomous techs that “would be enough to provide American truck drivers severance packages and help lead their transition into the new economy to pursue other careers.”
I didn’t find much support for that last item among owner-operators I spoke to about it at 10-4, frankly. Franzkowiak does note, however, that he believes Yang’s focus on the issue of automation in trucking has had the effect of raising the profile of trucking in the mainstream conversation around issues of regulatory and legislative overreach in trucking also highlighted in Humanity Forward’s press release.
“People in America are paying attention to truck drivers’ issues,” he says. “We have people all across the country who are paying attention” now to issues like ELDs, which many drivers view as a step toward automation, those insurance-related proposals in Congress, and more.
That’s what, chiefly, Campbell and Toller are most hopeful for. “We have to give credit where credit’s due, and he’s talking about us,” Toller said of Yang’s campaign. That was true in this moment from last month’s debate among Dem presidential candidates:
When I spoke to Campbell and Toller this morning, they expected three more truckers to join their group of four and they planned to spend time in the afternoon driving in the vicinity of foot traffic around the arena where Trump is appearing, then parking in Trump’s view on his route to the event.