Driving the Drivers: One on One with Larry Hall
Truck driver Larry Hall works almost every spare moment trying to improve the lives of Canadian Truck drivers. Whether you’re talking about lobbying for more truck-stop spaces or less bureaucracy, Hall devotes virtually all his energy to the North American Truckers Guild (NATG), which he launched about five years ago and administers from his Kamloops home office. We wondered why a successful trucker like Hall would sacrifice so much home time for what must frequently seem like an uphill battle.
If you won the lottery, what would you do with the first $10 million?
I have little need for money beyond what I earn — I have done well for myself, so the answer without question would be to follow my passion and establish the Guild as the predominant transportation/drivers’ association in Canada.
What do you listen to while you’re driving?
For the most part, the radio is off because I am on the phone most of the day dealing with either my own business or NATG business.
Who would you like to spend a day driving with, anybody living or dead?
Jimmy Hoffa. He’s quite simply the most infamous trucker of all time and I would love to get his take on trucking.
To what (or whom) do you attribute your activism?
My dad was certainly politically active and politics were never far from his heart. Mom supported him and the system; she always worked polling booths on election day. (Hall is the youngest of six who grew up in rural Alberta. He’s married to Cindy and father of Brandon and Deanne — PC)
I have always felt close to my colleagues and even after making the transition to employer, employees have always been more like teammates than anything else. I struggled long and hard in the beginning, and I don’t like to see others experience that so I do what I can to help and mentor if that is required or accepted. I also feel strongly that people seeking advice should seek that advice from someone who knows their struggle intimately and has overcome the same or similar obstacles. Failure is a good teacher but it is the long way around.
Name five changes that have made trucking better than it was in past years?
• The equipment today is vastly improved and far more reliable than when I started out;
• Creature comforts that didn’t exist before: fridges, microwaves, satellite radios, APUs;
• Communication equipment, cellular phones, Internet;
• Fuel accounts via mag stripe cards. We used to have to carry cash or have house accounts set up with each vendor;
• Horsepower, torque and engine brakes. They’re all far better than they used to be.
What are five issues that should be resolved to make driving better?
• Uniform mandatory driver education from coast to coast;
• Uniform driver competency testing from coast to coast;
• Testing and certification to operate multi-articulation-point vehicles, including excess weight;
• Testing and certification for load-securement proficiency;
• Training/testing on the correct and efficient installation of tire chains.
How’d the Guild begin?
I joined my provincial trucking association in 1996. About 2006 I started to realize that my concerns about driver services and facilities were not getting the response I had expected and I started paying a lot more attention to the details of my relationship with my provincial trucking association. Subsequent inquiries lead me to believe that it was quite possible the tail was wagging the dog around there.
I didn’t know a lot about the mechanics of an association but I did know that there were a lot of members like me who didn’t generally have the time or interest in paying attention to the goings on of the association since we all had plenty of work on our plates already and making payroll was first and foremost on our minds.
The one thing that I know for sure is that an association belongs to its dues-paying members. I had been lobbying my association for many years in regard to the lack of truck parking in the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) and the inability of a driver to even get a cup of coffee or wash his face in the morning without getting a parking ticket. Anyone who trucks in this area knows that the closest truck stop is 60 miles from Vancouver and that commercial development continues to gobble up every piece of ground big enough to build a Tim’s on.
Frustrated, I recalled what a dispatcher once said to me after I performed a transportation miracle for him: “If you have an impossible job to do, give it to an owner-operator; he’ll find a way to get it done”.
In 2008, a long conversation with an Internet marketing guru made me realize that the Internet was the key to drivers being able to communicate with each other over vast distances and decided that if we wanted to get anything done for drivers, we would have to do it ourselves and then set out to start building our own association using the World Wide Web.
Is there a motto?
Pride Unity Strength & Honour, which gives us the acronym PUSH. Some people have mistaken this as an aggressive stance but that is not what it was intended to be, the tag line was “The PUSH for a better tomorrow”
Greatest Guild accomplishments?
Our first major accomplishment was putting a stop to the idea of mandating speed limiters in British Columbia; we simply don’t have the infrastructure here to support that type of regulation and don’t need the problems associated with speed- limited vehicles trying to pass one another on two-lane roads.
Last year we convinced the BC Chamber of Commerce to lobby the provincial government for mandatory commercial vehicle driver training during their policy session. This lobby effort will run for three years and we hope to encourage other jurisdictions to do the same.
We have developed a large working group to study ways to improve commercial vehicle safety on the Coquihalla between Merritt and Hope; we are working with several professional drivers, ministry of transportation and road maintenance contractors to improve communication and road conditions during the winter months.
We are in the midst of a postcard campaign (paper and virtual) to lobby against mandatory EOBRs. We have a digital version on our website for folks that can’t find the paper postcards and those cards are directed right to the Minister of Transportation with a cc sent to his provincial counterparts. We are asking those of you who hold your right to privacy sacred and don’t believe that EOBRs will attain the safety benefits they are promoted to do to please visit our website at www.thetruckersguild.com and fill out the card. This is most likely the only chance you will have to let governments know how you feel on the subject and the ministers need to hear from you—since they will not be looking for you at the local truck stop to ask your opinion.
Have you ever seen The Guild’s work have an effect on an individual? Something that made you feel particularly proud?
The one person that comes to mind is Alex Fraser. Alex was the 67-year-old driver beaten and left for dead on the side of highway 5 in BC two years ago after he stopped to help a car on the shoulder of the road. It was the NATG that started the ball rolling on all of the reward funds and in the end delivered close to $30,000 to Alex to help him adjust financially to his unemployable state.
What is it about the Guild that keeps you motivated?
I recall an episode of “The Dick Van Dyke” show called “The Bright Family” in which Mr. Bright made a coffee table out of his front door, but his new front door then had coffee table legs; they both still worked but it was obviously wrong. There may be a parallel in our industry.
What I see in front of us is all of the elements and pieces of an excellent industry, all we need to do is reassemble them correctly. If we do that, we will mitigate much of the seemingly endless regulation coming our way.
Facing these facts means that I must call out the people who don’t lift a finger to help. Quite simply, I can understand that you may feel associations have come and gone over the years and nothing has ever come of them but, it isn’t the associations that are bludgeoning themselves, it is the drivers that knowingly choose to look away and pretend that it isn’t their problem—if that is you, you are at fault. If we quit butchering the cows, we can all have milk.
It is time to man up this industry and take responsibility for our own futures and that of our children. We are trying to plant a garden of prosperity for future generations of truckers and if we all pitch in now, it will be a bountiful harvest later.
My motivation comes from 20 years of watching others run my beloved craft into the ground for no other reason than profit. It’s a cannibal’s picnic and future drivers are the guests of honor.
If you really think about it, there are about 250,000 drivers behind the wheel in this country. We are the largest workforce there is and we can be the most effective lobby group too if we simply choose to use the tools in the drawer.