The American Trucking Association (ATA) has announced plans to lobby states to put large truck company profits over the well being of owner-operators (O-O) (See Transportation Topics, December 10, 2007 page 1). Specifically the ATA stated that they were lobbying states to ensure owner operators were exempted from workers compensation laws (stating O-O’s had to be covered by workers compensation insurance by the companies that hired them) since it was clear that any federal legislation taking away this benefit would not pass.
Workers compensation protects O-O’s by insuring that, if they are hurt on the job, they can get their medical bills paid and have a small income until they heal. Under the laws of many states O-O’s are considered employee’s for purposes of workman’s compensation. This is because the trucking companies dictate the route, times, and frequently provide the truck to the O-O on a payment plan. In my experience the payments under the workers compensation system are never enough to keep the O-O’s truck from being repossessed, but are sometimes enough to keep the driver’s house out of foreclosure until the driver can go back to work. If the large companies don’t cover workers compensation for the small O-O, then many will go without insurance or go to work for a larger company. If the O-O goes without insurance, and is injured, it is the taxpayer that will eventually pick up the medical bills.
These O-O’s are frequently mom and pop drivers and often reflect the finest ideals that the trucking industry has to offer. They are pursing the American dream of owning their own business and making that first step. While any other employer would have to cover workers compensation insurance, the trucking companies want to shift this cost to the O-O who already are facing all the costs of higher fuel and taxes, with none of the pricing power of the larger companies to pass these costs on. The ATA should be ashamed of its position on this issue.