Tenn. Trucking Association decries GOP bill on COVID-19 rules as ‘anti-business’

The Tennessee Trucking Association is speaking out against the hastily assembled omnibus legislation aimed at trying to dial back COVID-19 mandates.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) earlier this week specifically cited a story he had seen about the challenges facing the trucking industry in pursuing the legislation. But state Trucking Association President Dave Huneryager is asking for lawmakers to let them sort it out for themselves.

“We are hopeful that the federal administration will continue to allow trucking companies to manage their own operations, as has been the case over the past 18 months,” he said in the letter. “Whatever the final federal or OSHA rules may be, the trucking industry is a business that operates in interstate commerce and has to follow federal mandates.”

Huneryager also took issue with a plan to extend unemployment benefits to people fired for refusing to get vaccinated.

“We believe this is an anti-business policy and adopting anything like this would provide a reason for employees to draw unemployment compensation instead of working in full-time employment,” he wrote,

Here’s the full letter sent to all members of the General Assembly.

On behalf of the Tennessee Trucking Association and its 500 members that represent one out of every thirteen jobs in Tennessee, I am writing to you about issues that will be considered by the Tennessee General Assembly during the upcoming Special Session. TTA is an organization that has been in existence and active in legislative matters for more than 75 years and our industry is hopeful that you will sincerely consider some of the issues that are of major concern to our members as you proceed during the Special Session.

There have been many rumors circulating for weeks regarding the issues that will be addressed within the framework of the call of the Special Session. There have been numerous newspaper articles and other comments from members of the General Assembly related to issues that directly affect private businesses in Tennessee. Now that the Special Session has been called and legislation is being filed, TTA wanted to reach out to you with its concerns.

Fortunately, for years Tennessee has maintained an excellent reputation as a business-friendly environment, in large part through limited government intervention through laws, regulations, or taxes. The trucking industry is very appreciative that the legislature created this environment. For the past 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented the trucking industry with operational challenges that have never existed before now. Maintaining a safe working environment and being a key player in the movement of all cargo throughout the United States has been difficult to navigate. At this time, there is a supply chain crisis in this country that has placed an additional burden on the industry. Recruiting and keeping CDL truck drivers has never been more critical than it is now. The federal government is presently considering the imposition of COVID-19 vaccination mandates or weekly testing on all employers who have 100 or more employees.

TTA is requesting you consider the following:

1. Please do not interfere with the ability of trucking companies in Tennessee to navigate through this transportation and logistics crisis. Over the past 18 months, trucking companies across the state have developed different policies in regard to vaccine mandates, testing, COVID tracking, etc. Some are more strict than others. Each company is better suited to understand how to interact with its’ employees, maintain privacy, maintain a healthy working environment, and, at the same time, continue to operate a business to support the transportation industry in this country.

2. The federal administration appears to have some problems with how to implement the vaccine mandate/testing on trucking companies. A very small portion of the industry has more than 100 employees. Truck drivers spend most of their working hours alone in the cab of a truck, which is one the safest places during the pandemic so why do they need to be regulated? Testing hundreds of thousands of truck drivers moving across the country every day will be almost impossible. Therefore, we are hopeful that the administration will recognize the challenge of requiring vaccines and/or testing for trucking companies that will interfere with the movement of cargo. We are hopeful that the federal administration will continue to allow trucking companies to manage their own operations, as has been the case over the past 18 months. Whatever the final federal or OSHA rules may be, the trucking industry is a business that operates in interstate commerce and has to follow federal mandates.

3. There have been suggestions that employees who refuse to receive a vaccination or be tested could simply quit their employment and draw unemployment compensation. We believe this is an anti-business policy and adopting anything like this would provide a reason for employees to draw unemployment compensation instead of working in full-time employment. This is similar to the same problem that existed for months as a result of the extended COVID unemployment benefits. With the trucking industry struggling to find drivers now, this would only make it more difficult to recruit drivers.

4. It has been proposed that employers should be removed from the business COVID liability immunity protection that was passed by the legislature in 2020. This would allow employees to directly sue an employer should they become ill or, in the worst case, suffer death as a result of being tested or receiving a mandated vaccine. Again, this would be the total opposite of the friendly business community that the legislature has worked for years to establish in Tennessee. Currently, employees can be compensated for any type of illness or sickness suffered under workers’ compensation insurance.

5. There have been discussions related to passing legislation that would result in some type of “nullification” of federal OSHA regulations which would allow employers to simply ignore federal guidance, rules and regulations on COVID testing and vaccines. As noted above, unlike many other businesses, the trucking industry operates almost entirely in interstate commerce and is subject to federal regulations and rules. The trucking industry cannot just ignore federal laws, rules and regulations.

Tennessee is an employment-at-will state. It has been the cornerstone of our business environment for years. Employers need the discretion to make decisions they need for their operations and to protect their greatest asset, which is their employees, with limited government intervention. In this industry, we feel we have navigated through this awful pandemic for the last year and a half to the best of our ability. We ask that state and the federal government continue to give us the flexibility to conduct our businesses and not erode the employee/employer relationship.

Thank you for your service in the legislature and your consideration of TTA’s position on the matters that you will consider over the next few days.

Sincerely,

Dave Huneryager
President