TNN EXCLUSIVE: Black Smoke Matters Clears The Air, Responds To Shutdown “Haters”
“Every person in this movement is the lifeblood of America. They go to work every day to keep everyone in this country supplied with the goods that they need. If we don’t take corrective action now to fix these things then we are going to be pushed out.” – Byran Hutchens, Black Smoke Matters, board member of legislation and compliance
Little Rock, Arkansas – A “peaceful shutdown” is the last and best chance for the concerns of hundreds of thousands of truckers to finally be taken seriously.
That is the message the leaders of Black Smoke Matters (BSM), a grassroots movement of truckers organizing a widespread shutdown planned for this April, expressed to Transportation Nation Network (TNN) in a brand new interview.
In our more than one hour-long in-depth interview with Joe Denney, founder and ambassador of BSM; Lori Franklin, vice-president; and Bryan Hutchens, board member of legislation and compliance; the three truckers sought to clear the air about why BSM was formed, and address what they claim are “mis-characterizations” in reporting regarding their upcoming shutdown.
“We’ve got big visions for Black Smoke Matters”
“Black Smoke Matters is about unity and brotherhood and sisterhood,” Denney, a trucker of 46 years with close to 6 million accident-free miles, told TNN. Denney took issue with recent reporting accusing the group of spinning their name off of the controversial “Black Lives Matters” movement. He gave TNN context to the formation of the name. “Black smoke means the sacrifices that all of us truckers have given to this industry.”
BSM was formed among a group of like-minded and concerned truckers one April 2017 evening in Denney’s garage. “We’ve got big visions for Black Smoke Matters,” Denney said. Denney told us the primary reason the group was formed was to “take our industry back,” but he said he also wants to see BSM do its part in local communities.
Though BSM leadership is committed to engaging in a host of charitable endeavors like cleaning truck stops and building playgrounds in under-serviced communities, the driving purpose of its formation is to fight what they see as the over-regulation of the trucking industry and the elimination of trucking small businesses.
Denney acknowledged it has taken “burdensome” regulations like the electronic logging devices (ELD) mandate and the tightening of hours-of-service (HOS) rules to wake up many old-time truckers. “I think we didn’t think it was going to come this far and we dropped the ball on this. Now, we all take blame, but it’s time to gather this up because this government is taking our constitutional rights away that our forefathers fought for,” Denney said. “Our safety is at stake out here, but they don’t care.”
“If we don’t start now to fix this industry, where are we going to be in 5 years?”
Lori Franklin has been trucking for the last 38 years and has been an owner operator for 23 of those years. She told TNN she now has an ELD in her truck and she’s ready to leave the industry if things don’t change soon. “This ELD has made me very stressed. I don’t feel like I’m at my full potential anymore,” Franklin said.
Cybersecurity is also a threat that worries Franklin. She says it’s a risk she can’t afford to take. “As a single woman running down the highway, who do I know that’s hacking into that system and can see there’s only one driver driving that truck, and where I’m going and where I’m picking up?”
The third member of the BSM leadership team TNN spoke with, Bryan Hutchens, told us the time for truckers to rise up and unify is now. “If we don’t start now to fix this industry, where are we going to be in 5 years? How are the smaller companies and owner operators going to be able to afford to be in business,” Hutchens questioned.
Hutchens echoed many familiar refrains heard among truck drivers who point to big dollar lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. by the American Trucking Association (ATA) and others, as the root of what is negatively changing the industry for drivers. “The small companies are the majority of the industry yet we get no say in what’s happening.”
Hutchens said truckers haven’t shown a willingness to get involved and fight back in the same way. “The biggest problem is it’s extremely hard to get drivers to donate without action already being taken. They don’t see the use in it,” he lamented.
Why not shutdown?
Denney, Franklin, and Hutchens have traveled to Washington D.C., along with other truckers, and participated in numerous rallies and organized events, but don’t believe the voices of truckers are being considered by legislators and regulators. “Three times we’ve been to D.C. to meet with elected officials and nothing is being done,” Hutchens said.
It was on these trips in private meetings with congressional aides and regulators, BSM leaders say they began hearing the same suggestion. Why not shutdown? “They said organizing a shutdown was the only way to get attention or get our way,” Franklin claimed. “They said the only way the media looks on anybody is the bad things.”
Denney said even members of the general public they spoke with offered the same solution. “Even the thousands of people in the general public we visited with in D.C., before we even said anything, said ‘why haven’t you shut these trucks down,’ Denney recalled.
BSM leadership wondered the same thing.
“As long as it takes”
It’s been less than a month since BSM began organizing and mobilizing its members for what they are calling the “Stand As One” Shutdown set to begin on April 12, 2019. However, BSM leaders expressed disappointment in some of the initial reports about the shutdown in both national and trucking media outlets. They say they are intent on getting accurate information to the trucking industry which is why they reached out to TNN.
Denney said the biggest misconception created by inaccurate reporting so far about the shutdown is that it’s only a one day event. “It ain’t a one day shutdown. It’s until whenever,” Denney clarified.
Hutchens went further. “We are prepared to stay (shutdown) for as long as it takes. It’s come to a point where drivers don’t feel like we have any options left,” he said.
BSM is calling for Ray Martinez, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), to use “the power of his pen” and grant an exemption to carriers with 10 trucks or fewer from enforcement of the ELD mandate. BSM leaders are also calling for more flexible HOS rules and higher training standards for those seeking a career behind-the-wheel of commercial big rigs.
Hutchens said until the FMCSA “comes to the table with us and we come up with a realistic expectation,” BSM leadership will continue to urge its members to remain shutdown. Hutchens said he hoped Mr. Martinez and the FMCSA would help avert the looming shutdown.
“We would love for before this shutdown happens for them to stand up, take notice, and make some changes,” Hutchens stated. “We are willing to come to the table before April and sit down with them and figure out some realistic solutions.”
“That’s coming from these hate groups”
When a membership group climbs to over 20,000 people, like BSM’s has, it’s virtually impossible to monitor what each of your members might be saying in truck stops or posting on social media. However, instances of people making threats against truckers who are unwilling to join in the shutdown have now been spread far and wide on social media and elsewhere.
Denney disavowed any and all such behavior during our discussion. “Black Smoke Matters does not promote any violence,” Denney told us sternly. “We do not promote any kind of threats. We would not condone this.”
Denney said he believes much of the criticism of BSM has come from groups who want to make BSM look bad. “That is coming from these other hate groups that want to see this movement not even happen,” he told us.
“Spitting in the FMCSA’s face”
Even some trucking leaders are pushing back against the idea of a shutdown. According to a new report by Overdriveonline.com, an owner operator-focused trucking news outlet, the report quotes leaders of other grassroots trucking groups as characterizing BSM’s planned protest as “unproductive” and “spitting in the FMCSA’s face,” given the agency is in the final stages of crafting what could be favorable HOS reforms for truckers.
Additionally, critics argue the timing of such a shutdown is unhelpful because FMCSA has already addressed or is in the process of addressing most of BSM’s concerns. Hutchens told TNN he knows the criticism is out there. “People keep saying we aren’t going down the right avenues,” he said.
However, Hutchens said BSM leadership is not paying attention to the detractors. “The people that are calling us out are not doing anything except typing on the computer to try to ruin our character,” he said.
“We’re still 3 months out”
The BSM leadership team seems keenly aware they have a lot of work to do to rally support for their cause. They each acknowledged the effectiveness of the “Stand As One” Shutdown depends on convincing enough truckers that a shutdown is the only way forward.
Denney, Franklin and Hutchens expressed optimism about their prospects of building the strength in numbers they are going to need. “We’re still 3 months out. As we get closer we’re going to have a better realistic number of how many trucks we have,” Hutchens said. “All we can do is to continue to bring more trucks on-board.”
Truckers Stand As One In Indiana
In an effort to continue building momentum for their planned shutdown, BSM recently announced what they are calling a “peaceful and professional protest” set for February 21, 2019, in Indianapolis, Indiana. The “Truckers Stand As One In Indiana” rally is described as a “media blitz and convoy.”
BSM hopes the convoy in and through Indianapolis will garner the attention of media from across the region and the nation. Joining BSM in this rally will be representatives from the Pennsylvania-based United States Transportation Alliance (USTA). Leaders of BSM and USTA will be on-hand to speak to media members about their concerns.
The groups say they are also working with truckers in other locations such as Texas, California, North Carolina and South Carolina to organize similar events on the same day.
“Lifeblood of America” must “stand together as one” or “be pushed out”
Calling for unity, BSM leaders said they fear if truckers don’t quickly decide to join together, the consequences could be dire for many professional drivers. “Every person in this movement is the lifeblood of America. They’re hardworking, taxpaying, American citizens. They go to work every day to keep everyone in this country supplied with the goods that they need. If we don’t take corrective action now to fix these things then we are going to be pushed out,” Hutchens warned.
It remains to be seen how effective these planned events will be, but BSM leaders struck an aspirational tone and told TNN they are in this fight for the long-haul. “We all need to stand together as one. We’re all in this fight together,” Franklin proudly said.
TNN will continue to provide you the latest and most accurate information on the developments in this story.
TNN has been unable so far to verify claims by BSM leaders that congressional aides encouraged a trucker shutdown. We will continue to attempt to do so.