Several major trucking companies will gather next week in Chicago to put, together a massive political action campaign to oppose industry deregulation, it was learned yesterday.
Dozens of large trucking concerns and representatives from related businesses - including shippers and bankers who provide funding for much of the industry - have organized a Wednesday meeting at an airport hotel in Chicago to develop a strategy against Carter administration efforts to dismantle much of the trucking regulatory apparatus.
In a separate but related action, the American Trucking Associations has circulated among the members of its executive board a draft of compromise regulatory revision legislation they hope to propose eventually in an effort to head off the Interstate Commerce Commission plan for significant deregulation.
The ATA proposal, dubbed the "Motor Carrier Regulatory and Safety Improvement Act of 1979," is expected to go through considerable discussion before being introduced in Congress - probably sometime in February after the ATA executive board approves a final draft.
But the Chicago meeting is representative of a grass-roots effort on the part of several large trucking firms who feel the ATA and other trade organizations have been unsuccessful thus far is in dissuading the administration, Sen. Edward Kennedy's Senate antitrust subcommittee, and the ICC Chairman Dan O'Neal from proceeding with deregulation plans.
According to Chicago transportation attorney H. Barney Firestone, whose firm, Sullivan & Associate, is organizing the meeting for several of its clients trucking firms, "We are concerned at many of the comments made by Chairman O'Neal, and we decided that we better finally get our act together."
"The fact is," Firestone said, "O'Neal is usurping the powers of the Congress and in the process will destroy the transportation system of this country."
Last week, O'Neal outlined a sweeping plan to deregulate the trucking industry, particularly the requirements for new firms entering the business and the methods the industry uses to collectively set freight-shipping rates.
"We feel that a groundswell is important because it seems the commision is disregarding industry spokesmen like the ATA," said Murray Meiselles, president of Indiana Refrigerator Lines and another organizer of the Chicago conclave, where he hopes they will raise enough money to finance a major pro-industry lobbying effort.
Meanwhile, the ATA is proceeding with its own legislative proposal, acknowledging the need for some regulatory revision, but far short of the proposals O'Neal has made.
"Ours is not a deregulation bill by any means," said C. James McCormick, senior vice president of Briggs Transportation Co. of Vincennes, Ind., and a former ATA president. "It includes regulatory reform and some safety proposals.
"The purpose of our proposal is to bring forth a positive position of the trucking industry that would answer many of the critics," McCormick said, "and at the same time alleviate the misconception that the ATA and its members are only in favor of the status quo. We want to preserve the system through modernization.
Paul Shuster, chairman of Schuster Express in Colchester, Conn, is also involved in drafting the ATA proposal "What we're really saying," Schuster said, "is that we know the industry better than they do, and it is a complicated industry."
Schuster warned that if there is significant regulation "large carriers will continue eating small carriers up, and the small guys can't protect themselves."
Sources said the ATA draft calls for some discussion of single-line rates - rates that are not set in concert with all other carriers in the region. It also would call for some forms of eased entry controls, and loosened restrictions on intercorporate hauling and pooling arrangements, under which several trucking firms can combine to fill one truck going to the same area.
But few truckers mask their fear of O'Neal's efforts to deregulate rapidly.
"O'Neal is a pawn of the president," said one trucking concern chief. "And neither of them knows anything about this industry.
"This industry is trying its best to serve the public interest," and I don't believe deregulation will be in the public interest," said trucking executive Meiselles. "And now I think, once and for all, that I can speak my mind. If we can get together and find a way to communicate our feelings to Congress, I think we can accomplish something."