Shutdown Shut Down: Why It Failed
SHUTDOWN SHUT DOWN, part 2
Why It Failed
In recent months, Transportation Nation Network received unprecedented access inside the planning of the nationwide trucker shutdown organized by Black Smoke Matters (BSM). In part two of our series we will analyze what went wrong.
Raise your hand if you are a professional truck driver and feel as though the trucking industry has become over-regulated, and as a result, less safe.
Now, keep your hand up if you believe new drivers aren’t being properly trained.
Don’t put your hand down just yet.
Keep that hand in the air if you are frustrated with the lack of safe and available truck parking.
Wait… keep your hand lifted if you believe the use of an electronic logging device (ELD) should be a choice rather than a government mandated requirement.
Now, give a little waive if you are concerned about the rapid deployment of technology systems in semi-trucks and the threat of possible cyber-security breaches.
Hang in there just a bit longer. There is a point to this seemingly silly exercise.
Finally, keep that hand lifted if you believe U.S. lawmakers and regulators should value the voices of those actually driving the trucks, at least as much, if not more, than the executives who run America’s largest trucking companies.
If your hand is still raised then you share the same expressed frustrations of the polarizing social media group, Black Smoke Matters (BSM).
What’s more, you are not alone. Far from it, in fact.
Many thousands of truckers are at their wit’s end with the current state of working conditions in North America, so why was the recent attempt to express those frustrations through a nationwide shutdown such a flop?
Let’s take a look at “Why It Failed.”
In an exclusive interview with a founder of BSM, Joe Denney, only a few hours after the shutdown ended, Denney expressed his deep disappointment about the group’s failure to galvanize enough support.
He was particularly angry about the lack of turnout at slow roll protests in Chicago and New York City on April 12, which was the first day of what he expected to be a week or longer work stoppage.
“You’ve got too many spineless cowards out here,” he said.
What galled Denney the most was those among the 26,000-member group who pledged to support the shutdown, but failed to show up.
“We didn’t have anybody stand with us,” Denney lamented. “You’ve got people saying ‘if you would have had this many trucks, we would have been there.’ Well, we needed them there!”
Mike Landis, Founder & Chief Executive Officer of the United States Transportation Alliance (USTA), says it wasn’t the causes BSM was fighting for that was unworthy of support, it was the leaders of BSM.
“It’s obvious why they weren’t able to get people onboard,” Landis said. “Most people don’t want to be represented by the stuff we’ve seen on BSM.”
Landis met and became friendly with a number of the BSM leaders in 2017 through other trucker protest events.
He says they are “good people” but he believes excessive profanity and a “lack of self-control” is what caused many people who share BSM’s goals to leave the movement.
“I think they had an opportunity to do something great, but they kind of blew it with their behavior. It’s a thin line you have to walk between being professional and being an outlaw,” Landis explained.
Despite his concerns, Landis says the USTA supported its members who chose to participate in the slow rolls and shutdown, as well as those who didn’t.
“We have members that are from there (BSM). We took off Thursday through Monday because we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Landis commented.
Andrea Marks is the Director of Communications for TruckerNation, a grassroots social media group that rose from the anti-ELD mandate movement.
“Its not that we don’t support the concerns raised… we don’t support the approach to try and get them fixed,” Marks told TNN in a recent interview.
“From a tactical perspective we just don’t feel as though shutdowns/strikes/protests, no matter peaceful or violent, is an effective way to impact real change,” she said.
Marks also stated that an attempted shutdown would not only be non-productive, but it would be counter-productive.
“Shutting down at this point would be like revolting against the ones that are now trying to help us,” she said referring to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) recently announced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on hours of service (HOS) reform. “This administration has made far more effort to hear from the industry than we’ve ever seen before.”
Denney and other BSM leaders believed a shutdown was the only way to have the voices of America’s truck drivers be heard and respected.
Further, in almost every interview we have conducted with BSM leaders, they have each been consistent in their claim that congressional leaders, along with the FMCSA representatives they have met with, hinted that a shutdown would get the national “media attention” required to change things.
TNN has not been able to verify such claims, but BSM leaders have said they believed such a drastic measure was “the last chance to save the trucking industry.”
Numerous current and former BSM members TNN has spoken with did not want to go on the record, but painted a picture of disorganization and dysfunction inside the movement.
One member described what he considered to be a haphazard process of making decisions and planning events.
Another highlighted the challenges of not having a defined leader, like a CEO, who would ultimately be responsible for making tough decisions.
Giving credibility to such claims was Shawn Link, an admin for BSM. He told TNN, “We are not really leaders. We are teammates in this fight.”
A former BSM member echoed this, saying that without strong and decisive leadership the movement would always be mired in “chaos.”
Adding to the dysfunction was the outpouring of criticism the group says it received on their Facebook page and across social media.
It became so intolerable, BSM leaders chose to archive their Facebook page in an effort to remove the “negativity” and “fake profiles.”
“They tried to paint us as drunks and drug addicts,” Patrick Karns, a BSM leader, said. “Are you serious?”
Vile and explicit messages were often hurled at BSM leaders and members.
Denney said BSM leaders pushed back hard on what he described as “hateful messages” far too obscene to print.
That push back, often laced with profanity and incendiary rhetoric, tarnished the group in the eyes of many.
BSM leaders said the most common objection they heard was, “I can’t afford to shutdown. I have bills to pay and a family to feed.”
Karns said he understands, but that’s still no excuse for not taking a stand.
“We are all strapped. We couldn’t afford it, but we did it,” Karns told TNN.
BSM leaders and participants in the slow roll protests were forced to come out-of-pocket for their expenses to and from such events.
Plus, when you consider the wages lost in order to participate in such events, the personal costs added up quickly.
However, Denney said the costs of not shutting down were much greater. “How could you not afford to shutdown if you could save one innocent family’s life out here?”
The reality is though, that truckers likely won’t participate in such a shutdown unless they are convinced their participation will lead to the changes they desire.
It’s clear not nearly enough truckers believed the BSM shutdown was going to be effective.
If you have read this far then you most likely already understand why analyzing and dissecting the successes and failures of movements like Black Smoke Matters actually matter.
Since the end of the BSM shutdown, TNN has already been contacted by other groups looking to coordinate protest events designed to put pressure on U.S. lawmakers and regulators.
James Lamb, president of the 15,000-member Small Business in Transportation Coalition, followed the BSM movement closely.
He told TNN that though the BSM shutdown failed, he believes dissatisfaction is only growing.
“The strike portion did not have the effect I am sure the organizers wanted, but given the climate in the industry over ELDs and overregulation, a volatile powder keg remains susceptible to a future spark down the road.”
It’s clear these kinds of movements are likely not going away any time soon.
TNN has devoted more coverage to the BSM movement than any other trucking media outlet.
Because we believe our readers deserve to know what is actually happening in the trucking community.
Plus, we believe assessing what led up to this event, and went wrong, is our duty to you, our loyal readers and members.