PEORIA, Ill. — In a state and a nation and a world that is focusing more and more on environmental issues, Don Schaefer’s industry is a target.
At least, that’s what it seems like from the viewpoint of the members of the Mid-West Trucking Association that Schaefer leads, as executive vice president.
“It is scary right now. There is an atmosphere in Washington and in Springfield that, hey, we’re going to do what we want. And our industry has a bull’s-eye on its forehead,” he said.
Environmental laws and labor laws and regulations top the list when it comes to concerns within the industry.
With most of the MTA members identifying as small businesses, some as medium-sized businesses, Schaefer said the big concern is that costly environmental regulations and labor laws could put smaller trucking firms and independent owner/operators out of business.
Schaefer said there is an added sense, after the midterm elections, that sectors that helped get state and national lawmakers elected will get their wish lists granted when it comes to laws and regulations.
“Certain entities, certain groups, feel empowered right now because of the election results. A lot of people got elected because of support from organized labor, so it’s going to be payback time to organized labor,” he said.
When it comes to environmental regulations, Schaefer said he is concerned that laws and regulations may be put into place by lawmakers who have no real understanding of the real economic and human impacts on industries like the trucking industry.
“The ranks of people who represent the country and the state have taken on an environmental bent without understanding much about who we are and what we do. That is difficult. And it makes our job that much tougher,” he said.
Schaefer spoke after the 2023 Mid-West Truck and Trailer Show. The show, which was canceled for the past three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, was a huge success, and Schaefer said his members, from exhibitors to presenters to visitors, were excited to return to the Peoria Civic Center.
“People were ecstatic. They were glad to come back. The salespeople and exhibitors were happy to be around fellow salespeople and exhibitors,” he said.
“Members who haven’t seen each other for two or three years were happy to see each other face to face again. They were glad to get together in person and they had a really good time.
“There were people there who have had business relationships with each other for 40 years or more. So, the fact that they could sit down and catch up with each other is important. That is one of the important parts of having the show and convention.”
Two popular sessions during the event were listening sessions hosted by three Republican state lawmakers, Reps. C.D. Davidsmeyer of Jacksonville, Norine Hammond of Macomb and Ryan Spain of Peoria, and a congressional update session presented by Republican U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, representing Illinois’ 16th Congressional District.
The state lawmakers heard concerns from the audience that state laws and regulations seem to be targeting small businesses.
Schaefer said it’s a concern he hears from MTA members, from ag industry truckers to construction industry truckers and others.
“The universal thing we hear from all of them — and we heard it in the session with the state legislators — is stop beating up the little guy. The little guys, they are just getting pushed deeper and deeper and deeper into a hole and there doesn’t seem to be any understanding about small businesses,” he said.
“It seems like most of the decisions in the state of Illinois are being made by a small group of legislators from the city of Chicago, who really have no understanding about what else is happening.”
Schaefer said the three state Republican lawmakers understand the concerns of small business owners, including those in the trucking industry.
“I think that discussion was very loud and clear at the listening session, but it is very deeply understood by those three state legislators. They represent the farmers, the contractors, the truckers, the people who understand if you keep playing around with tax issues, with employment law issues, you keep coming back with environmental regulations, that could just suffocate a company and truck operators,” he said.
Two laws out of California that could migrate to Illinois lead the pack when it comes to concerns over environmental and labor law.
The first is the California Air Resources Board emissions requirements, which are stricter than current federal standards. For instance, as of Jan. 1, 2023, all Class 7 (gross vehicle weight rating between 26,001 and 33,000 pounds) and Class 8 (GVWR exceeding 33,000 pounds) diesel-fueled trucks are required to have 2010 or newer model year engines.
Schaefer said there has been a push for Illinois to adopt the same regulations. Fourteen states have adopted all or some parts of the California emissions regulations.
“What some individuals and entities want to do is to basically have Illinois codify CARB regulations. So, when California passes a stricter environmental regulation, they want Illinois to automatically say, yes, this is what our law is now, too,” Schaefer said.
“There are definite problems with that. Illinois is not set up to deal with some of these ideas that California has.”
He said that while the CARB regulations have improved air quality, the way in which the regulations have been implemented has the trucking industry concerned.
“A lot of people say, well, CARB has done good things, they have really improved the environment. No one is going to deny that they have improved the environment,” he said.
“It’s the process and the way that they have done it that has made it very difficult for people in our industry.”
Another California-based law is AB5. AB5 reclassifies independent contractors as employees.
“AB5 basically gets rid of the independent contractor and the owner/operator model for truckers. The fear we have is there is a big push by organized labor to get rid of the independent contractor and owner/operator model. They want them to be employees so they can unionize them,” Schaefer said.
He said the MTA and other groups who want to keep the independent contractor model in Illinois have made the case that those models work.
“We have a couple of different models that we have used to show that our independent contractor laws work. They are clean and clear-cut, accountable, everyone is paying their fair share. The state is getting its tax money,” he said.
“The only thing that is not happening is a union. But with the political atmosphere we have right now in Illinois, that is what is winning.”