Friday, June 27, 2008

Georgia Truck Driving Champion Crowned

Jonathan Churchwell, of Adairsville, was named the best professional truck driver in Georgia after winning the three-axle competition and receiving the highest overall score in the eight competing categories at the 2008 Georgia Truck Driving Championships. The annual event is sponsored by the Georgia Motor Trucking Association.

Churchwell, who drives for Con-way Freight, now qualifies to compete in the American Trucking Associations' National Truck Driving Championships August 18-23, 2008 in Houston, Texas -- also known as the "Super Bowl of Safety." The winners from each of the seven other categories are also eligible to compete in the national championship.

Nearly 400 drivers from all 50 states will compete in Houston for four days, challenging their driving skills, and knowledge of safety, equipment and the industry. From 18-wheeler five axle sleepers to tank trucks to twin trailers -- they will drive a course that recreates situations truck drivers face daily. These maneuvers will include: an alley dock, a rear line stop, a side park, a scale stop, a right turn, a front line stop, and straight line driving through a diminishing clearance.

On Saturday night, August 23, one contestant will drive away as the 2008 National Grand Champion Truck Driver.

"The Truck Driving Championships represent the culmination of the industry's dedication to safety," said Georgia Motor Trucking Association President & CEO Edward Crowell. "I congratulate all the contests and I hope Georgia roots for our drivers as they move on to Nationals in Houston."

Georgia winners for each category included:

Timothy McElwaney, ABF Freight System, Carrollton, Ga. (Straight Truck)

Jonathan Churchwell, Con-way Freight, Adairsville, Ga. (Three-Axle)

Joseph Obregon, ABF Freight System, Ellijay, Ga. (Four-Axle)

Buner "Herschel" Evans, USF Holland, Bremen, Ga. (Five-Axle)

William "Scott" Cain, UPS Freight, Lawrenceville, Ga. (Five-Axle Sleeper)

Brian Dubberly, Wal-Mart Transportation, Douglas, Ga. (Tankers)

Ben Moore, Jr., Wal-Mart Transportation, Americus, Ga. (Flatbed)

William Keeling, Roadway, Lawrenceville, Ga. (Twins)

ATA's Truck Driving Championships include top professional truck drivers from around the nation competing at state and regional levels to make it to the national competition Aug. 19-23 in Houston, Texas. The NTDC annually attracts over 2,000 cheering friends, family, colleagues and spectators.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

18 Wheels of Hope

Hundreds of Teamster truck drivers from transportation companies including Yellow, UPS, UPS Freight and Roadway have covered thousands of miles as volunteers since flood waters devastated the Midwest a week ago.

In the past few weeks, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has donated more than $200,000 in labor, equipment and diesel fuel to the American Red Cross to make sure flood victims get the supplies they need.

"People helping people is what we're all about," said Cheryl Johnson, director of the Human Rights Commission at Teamsters headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Cedar Rapids union member Gary Dunham agrees that working with the Red Cross is a natural fit.

"That's what we do. We help people," Dunham said.

People like Frank in Cedar Rapids are grateful for the thousands of Red Cross clean up kits the Teamsters have delivered. "In 98 years I never had any water in it," he said of the family home that once belonged to his grandfather. "I'm tired, but I'm blessed."

Johnson is proud that many Teamsters are now disaster ready after taking Red Cross disaster training. Especially important, they have put together a network of partners and members who know how to quickly access equipment and supplies when needed. In the case of the Midwest floods, the semi-trucks are hauling blankets, cots, food, water and anything else the Red Cross needs.

"They've been extremely generous and very flexible," said Dennis Morgan, a Red Cross partner services administrator who has helped coordinate efforts in Iowa with the union. "We really appreciate everything the Teamsters are doing."

Morgan said the union has committed several trucks and drivers to be ready at a moments notice when the Red Cross calls.

The Teamsters are more than truck drivers. Their 1.4 million members are found in variety of industries including airlines, food processors and dairies. Locally, the Teamsters are lending their muscle to the Red Cross as warehouse workers, loading and unloading as many as 60 truckloads of supplies a day. Johnson says after the flood waters recede, the Teamsters will still be playing a role in recovery. Members from the building materials and construction locals will likely be helping folks rebuild.

National disasters are not new to the Teamsters. They have operated their own Disaster Relief Fund since 1991 to help Teamster members who have suffered a loss. The partnership with the Red Cross dates from the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when the union saw a need and stepped up to fill it.

Since that time the Teamsters and the Red Cross keep on truckin' down the highways to help those along the way.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Teamsters Support Dorgan Bill to Tackle High Fuel Costs

Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa today said Congress should move quickly on a bill to curb high fuel costs.

Teamster leaders stood with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., as he announced legislation on Tuesday that would crack down on financial speculators who created a bubble in the price of oil. Joining Dorgan at his press conference was Teamsters Airline Division Director Capt. David Bourne to offer support for the legislation, which would eliminate manipulation and excessive speculation in the petroleum futures market.

"Supply and demand has nothing to do with $4 gas and sky-high jet fuel," Hoffa said. "Too many working people are suffering because of a few greedy speculators. This is the Enron scam all over again."

Dorgan's bill would lower the price of oil by limiting speculation and increasing oversight of energy markets by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. It is similar to a House bill introduced by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., known as the "PUMP Act." The Teamsters strongly support both measures.

The high price of oil is of special concern to the Teamsters because of its disproportionate impact on the airline industry. Fuel is an airline's second highest cost. The Teamsters represent 50,000 airline employees.

Bourne said the airline industry has a ripple effect on employment throughout the travel industry.

"You can't underestimate the contribution that the airline industry makes to this country's economic health," Bourne said. "To allow a handful of financial speculators to hold our economy hostage because of some misguided belief in 'free-market' rhetoric is just irresponsible."

Trucking company CEO tells of diesel fuel woes

Arkansas trucking company Maverick USA lost money for the first time in its history last year and is on pace to do even worse this year because of record-high fuel prices, the head of the Little Rock-based firm said Monday.

Maverick's diesel fuel bill is expected to increase 72 percent to nearly $115 million this year if prices merely remain steady at their current all-time high, said company chairman Steven Williams.

At a congressional hearing on the rising cost of fuel, Williams said Congress must develop a strategy to solve the fuel crisis that is driving truckers out of business.

He cited a Stephens Inc. analyst's study that said high fuel prices could force 14 to 16 percent of U.S. trucking companies out of business.

"This strategy must first focus on what factors are driving the cost of diesel," said Williams, whose company owns the second-largest fleet of flatbed trucks in the country.

Despite $300 million in revenues last year, Maverick lost money for the first time in its 27 years largely because of fuel prices and their dramatic effect on the economy, Williams said.

Williams testified before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, is an energy committee member who introduced Williams at the hearing.

"Steve Williams understands all too well the dramatic toll that rising oil and diesel prices are having on the economy as a whole, and the trucking industry in particular," Ross said.

Maverick USA has 2,000 employees and operates more than 1,500 trucks.

But Ross said 95 percent of trucking companies are small, family-owned businesses. Many of them already "have fallen victim to the exorbitant cost of diesel fuel."

Democrats on the panel blamed Wall Street speculators for investing in crude oil futures to turn a profit.

The large investors drive up prices for oil they do not intend to accept, Democrats said. Several congressmen have introduced legislation to restrict oil futures speculation.

Republicans argued the prices are based on an unstable dollar and skyrocketing demand in other countries.

Williams said he didn't think supply-demand concerns were a culprit.

The Arkansas Trucking Association took a similar stand in March when it asked the state's congressional delegation to request a hearing on the issue.

The association said fuel prices are rising despite ample supply and no significant spike in demand.

The trucking group represents 84,000 Arkansans and more than 300 corporations, including J.B. Hunt Transport Services, USA Truck and ABF Freight System.

A fuel-price fix is needed quickly, according to Williams.

In the next two decades, 87 percent more trucks will be needed on the nation's highways to keep up with societal demands.

He said Congress must begin to look now at policies to decrease speed limits, improve safety technologies and build new roads.

Monday, June 23, 2008

UPS Reduces Profit Forecast on Fuel Costs and Economy

United Parcel Service Inc., the world's largest package-delivery company, lowered its second- quarter profit forecast because of rising fuel costs and a slowing U.S. economy.

Earnings will be 83 cents to 88 cents a share, down from a range of 97 cents to $1.04, Atlanta-based UPS said today in a statement. The average estimate of 16 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was 98 cents.

UPS said the ``anemic'' economy was causing customers to cut back on air shipments, its most profitable offering, and that international packages coming into the U.S. were also declining. Jet-fuel costs have jumped 30 percent this quarter, and UPS has a two-month lag in recovering those expenses through surcharges, Chief Financial Officer Kurt Kuehn said in a telephone interview.

``The single biggest factor on this was jet fuel,'' Kuehn said. ``It's hard to compensate for that until things even out and calibrate a little bit.''

UPS's fuel surcharges for air shipments will increase to 32.5 percent in early July, up from 28 percent now, according to its Web site. Kuehn said the second quarter will be the year's ``most challenging'' because of the run-up in jet fuel.

UPS fell $2.80, or 4.2 percent, to $63.55 at 5:35 p.m. following the close of regular New York Stock Exchange trading. Earlier, the stock had declined less than 1 percent to $66.35.

The U.S. economy is still ``very sluggish'' and manufacturing ``continues to deteriorate,'' Kuehn said.

Today's move marks the fourth time UPS has reduced its quarterly earnings outlook since the company's initial public offering in 1999, spokesman Norman Black said in an e-mail message.

Petitions signed against DHL plan

Almost 6,000 people have signed petitions to stand up against a corporate plan that, if carried out, will take away jobs from thousands of area residents, resulting in whiplash to the Clinton County community.

About 60 people attended a Sunday afternoon meeting to confront the plan to restructure DHL’s operations in the United States — a plan expected to mean the direct loss of at least 7,000 jobs based at the DHL Air Park in Wilmington.

Many petitions have not yet been returned to organizers, but they want to go ahead and present copies of them to DHL and senior government officials in hopes it will help thwart the tentative air deal between DHL and United Parcel Service (UPS), one of DHL’s chief competitors.

Save-the-jobs organizers want the delivery of the first installment of petitions to be accompanied by a large group of people who want to preserve the jobs and protect the community. They plan to gather 10:30 a.m. next Monday at the parking lot of the Wilmington Wal-Mart Supercenter before proceeding to DHL facilities nearby.

There are plans to request that petitions be circulated soon at Sunday church services in the area.

Diesel prices driving independent truckers broke

Independent trucker Fletcher Mack owns a white Freightliner with his name stenciled in green on the door. These days he's reaching deeper into his pocket for fuel. With the price of diesel rising fast and more drivers chasing less freight, he sees a bleak financial future for himself and thousands like him across the country.

Mack figures his weekly income is down about $150 from a year ago to $750, before health insurance and taxes. The average price of diesel is nearly $5 a gallon, up almost $2 from a year ago. He makes around $38,000 a year. He and his longtime girlfriend juggle monthly bills, putting off what they can. Sometimes it's the rent, sometimes it's maintenance on the truck.

"This particular week what doesn't get paid is there's no service on the truck, because I had to decide between food and an oil change on the truck," said Mack, a one-eyed ex-baker who rents a one-bedroom house in a South Park, a gritty working-class neighborhood in Seattle. "The truck suffers, and the truck is how we make our money. And if the truck breaks then we have a really big problem." Full Story....

Maine senators’ bid to raise truck weight limits bogged down

A bill that would raise weight limits on trucks in Maine to 100,000 pounds faces an uphill fight in Washington in this election year.

Maine’s two Republican senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, have introduced legislation allowing for a two-year pilot program allowing 100,000-pound weight limits for trucks as long as fuel remains above $3.50 a gallon. Currently trucks are limited to 80,000 pounds on most interstates, although as many as 29 states have exemptions to that limit.

Truck sizes and weights are always an emotional issue in Washington. In this abbreviated congressional election-year calendar, the Maine bill is considered a longshot. Congress will soon break for a five-week August recess and returns briefly in September before taking its usual October break for re-election purposes. The bill, S-30-59, is called the "Commercial Truck Fuel Savings Demonstration Act of 2008." It is currently under consideration by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, but its future is unclear.

Maine is a special case. Because of the importance of the state’s lumber industry, Maine has a partial weight limit exemption in the southern half of the state which allows trucks up to 100,000 pounds. But trucks heading into Canada, where weight limits are 140,000 pounds, usually run on secondary state roads with a 100,000-pound weight limit where this exemption ends.

"Current laws that force trucks carrying more than 80,000 pounds off the federal Interstate system and onto smaller, two-lane roads simply do not make sense," Sen. Collins said in a statement. "This legislation would less the fuel-cost burden on truckers by putting these trucks back on the federal Interstate system where they belong."

One of the reasons the Maine exemption is considered a longshot is Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and longtime opponent of any increase in truck sizes and weights. Lautenberg and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., have introduced a competing bill that would preserve the current 80,000 weight limit for trucks on Interstates.

Lautenberg calls the idea of 97,000-pound trucks "a recipe for disaster." McCaskill says allowing longer and heavier trucks "defies common sense." On the House side, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., has long been against longer and heavier trucks, though he is calling for more studies and information on the issue.

The American Trucking Associations has taken no stance on the Maine bill. However, ATA quietly is laying the groundwork for what is expected to be a big push in the next Congress for greater use of longer combination vehicles. In its recent initiative to increase "sustainability" for the trucking industry, ATA included the use of "more productive truck combinations" as part of its six-point plan for the industry’s future.

The longer combination vehicles are backed by industry giants such as J.B. Hunt, Schneider National, UPS Freight, FedEx Freight and other large carriers. Citing Department of Transportation studies, the ATA says increasing weight limits to 97,000 pounds on single trucks and allowing heavier double 33-foot trailers in more states would save more than 20.5 billion gallons of fuel over 10 years. Allowing more longer combination vehicles has the potential to save 6.1 billion gallons of fuel while reducing carbon dioxide levels, ATA claims.

Railroads and safety advocates can be counted to come out in force against any such plan. But there are signs rail opposition may be softening. Truckers are the rails’ largest customers these days. Recently one railroad chief executive, Matthew K. Rose of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, indicated that if truckers were allocated a higher share of road taxes for greater use of longer and heavier trucks, he would not oppose it.

In any event, the push for longer and heavier trucks can be expected to go into high gear in 2009.