OWNER-OPERATORS TO STAGE A RALLY IN PROTEST OF SOARING FUEL PRICES

OWNER-OPERATORS TO STAGE A RALLY IN PROTEST OF SOARING FUEL PRICES

Independent truckers are planning a 500-truck demonstration outside CNN-TV's Atlanta headquarters Sunday to call attention to skyrocketing diesel fuel prices and other complaints.

The motor carriers want the network to publicize their complaints prior to the planned national independent trucker shutdown Nov. 11-17.Truckers are fuming about diesel fuel prices, which have soared 40 cents or more a gallon in some areas of the country.

But the demonstration also is slated to call attention to split speed limits, police harassment, hours of service limitations and other small trucker complaints, said John Sapp, an independent trucker and organizer with the owner-operators' group Truckers Across America.

"Everybody's upset. We've got oil companies screwing us left and right. If we don't handle these problems, there is just going to be a quagmire," Mr. Sapp said.

Oil companies say the added charges are due to refining costs and shortages of low-sulfur diesel fuel - another federal requirement - but truckers believe profiteering by refiners, distributors and truck stops is a major factor.

Truckers Across America is one of several loosely knit small truckers' groups calling for a shutdown by the nation's estimated 350,000 owner- operators on Nov. 11-17.

"It's building and it's going to come to a head. Everyone says we can't get together, but we can," said Albert Melton, an independent owner-operator

from Beaumont, Texas, and organizer for another pressure group, Truckers of America.

Mr. Melton said many truckers "want to block every major road leading to D.C.," similar to action by angry French truckers last year around Paris. Truck company managers said they are sympathetic, but expressed doubt it would happen.

"I think they have a legitimate gripe, but I don't think it's going to happen," said a manager at Truckers Express Inc. of Missoula, Mont.

"Fuel prices are out of control, but I think they need to go about it a different way," added Ron Hinrichs, a claims manager for Monfort Trucking Co., Greeley, Colo.

He said he participated in truck drivers' protests in 1973 after the Arab oil embargo, "but it didn't do any good. All it did was attract a lot of police."

Organizers this week picked up a key endorsement from the 20,000-member Owner-Operator Independent Drivers' Association, a trucker trade group.

"Our position is to support the membership," said Todd Spencer, the association's executive director. "If they tell us (to support the strike), we will."

The owner-operators' association, the American Trucking Associations and some lawmakers have asked the Interstate Commerce Commission to authorize a truck freight rate surcharge to cover soaring diesel costs, a move the ICC turned down a month ago.

"This is outrageous," said Sen. Larry Pressler, R-S.D. "The price of crude oil is relatively stable, but the diesel fuel prices have skyrocketed."

"They are starting to revolt, and I don't blame them" said Paul Bergant, senior vice president of marketing for J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., a

Lowell, Ark., truckload carrier.

Mr. Bergant said shippers and truck companies that employ owner-operators are ignoring these independent contractors' requests to share the fuel cost burden.

"They're saying, 'let's ignore it,' and the owner-operator gets pinched," he said. "I feel for them."