The Interstate Commerce Commission, in an effort to aid the strike-riddled trucking industry, yesterday ordered all regulated carriers to increase payments immediately to independent truckers by 5.6 percent.
The increase is designed to help owner-operators pay for the rapidly rising cost of diesel fuel, and at the same time defuse a growing strike by independent truckers.
The increase is based on a new diesel fuel price index, which the commission said would be updated weekly to allow more increases to be passed through to truckers almost immediately.
At a press conference yesterday, ICC Chairman Dan O'Neal said some truckers would also be permitted to bring their increase up to 6.7 percent through a filing with the ICC. But the 5.6 percent increase will come automatically, he said.
But Mike Parkhurst, president of the Independent Truckers Association, called the ICC announcement "garbage" and "virtually nothing." He said he is urging the 30,000 members of the ITA to ignore the agency's offer and expand their strike to a "complete shutdown."
In an interview in Washington yesterday, Parkhurst called for a 90-day suspension of ICC restrictions that prevent independent truckers from dealing directly with shippers.
He also called for full allocation of diesel fuel to truck stops, and joined just about everyone else in the country when he said, "We demand a public audit of the oil companies."
In a separate statement, the White House supported the ICC action, saying it "will help truckers whose rates aree regulated to recover with a minimum of red tape and delay, the escalation of fuel costs they are experiencing."
The statement added, however, that "in the longer run the only solution to the diesel problem is to provide more adequate supplies of this vital fuel.That is why we are demanding that the oil industry make every effort to increase the refining output and to maximize the middle distillate fraction of that output."
ICC chairman O'Neal in a separate interview, reacted angrily to an earlier statement by Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger blaming virtually all of the problems of truckers on the ICC.
"Next he'll blame us for the gasoline crisis," O'Neal said. "We have tried to work with the DOE to find solutions to a problem created by both supply shortages and the rapid increase of fuel prices. We had a plan that we thought would work, but with the price of fuel going up so fast, it just hasn't been effective.
O'Neal said he also had reluctantly decided temporarily to delay a plan to stop household movers on the road and make spot checks for "weightbumping" violations and overcharges. "We felt that the stops would be counterproductive at a time when we are trying to keep the trucks moving, and add just another complication to an already frustrating situation."
Meanwhile, the American Trucker Association reacted to growing violence associated with the independent truckers' nationwide strike. It called for state and local law enforcement officials to "keep the highways open for commerce and safe use by truck operators and motorists alike."
Truckers ignoring the call for a strike were targets of more gunfire and arson attempts as independent truckers parked their rigs in more than 30 states.
The American Movers Conference said in a statement that conditions on the nation's highways were "rapidly deteriorating," because of the strike.The group warned that "threats of violence, specific acts of violence, slowdowns, truck stop blockades and fuel shortages are all contributing to a near-collapse of the motor common carrier industry."
Blockades in some cities prevented delivery of food and fuel, causing consumer prices on some of those goods to rise.
Although the ITA's Parkhurst dismissed the government-ordered increased compensation to truckers as "crumbs off the table," other independent truckers said the action was welcome. ICC officials said telegrams to the commission from truckers and trucker groups were running 10-to-1 in favor of the commission action yesterday.