The "Queen of the Road" Conference

IMG_20140913_161743802In September we had our first face to face Board of Directors meeting in South Florida.

Though the event was intended only for our 5 board members to discuss 2015 objectives, a day of learning was scheduled that was open to other lady truckers who might like to attend.

We did not IMG_20140912_170413824_HDRpromote this event widely because it was our first time doing it.
This inaugural event was a way we could test the waters to gauge response and needs. We all learned something new and I learned that there is so much more we can do to help one another in the future.

IMG_20140912_170501967_HDRBuilding communication skills is imperative to gain the type of recognition seasoned women truckers desire and deserve.

Since I entered the trucking industry I have been perplexed about the public misconceptions IMG_20140912_133828428about the kind of truckers I come have come to know and admire. This is especially true of the under recognized women of trucking.

The public fear of truck drivers seems to have been born from media and organizations that have the power to limit what imagery of professional drivers the public is allowed to see.

Movie PosterFew working drivers have the time to refute negative and offensive stereotypes such as this image to the left. A sexy women trucker? Yes, there are many, but the image, tagline and the movie this poster promoted is the often re-told story of a women trucker who operates a cat house on wheels.

This is what sells in mainstream media and too often our own industry helps encourage this belief. It is also true that there are women who enter trucking for the wrong reasons believing this stereotype and that trucking will accommodate them even if they are not qualified to perform the job function. This is not the image we wish to promote.

Seasoned drivers who are out on the road pulling freight, often for decades have not had any opportunity to learn basic computer skills that could help them with their business as well as improve communication to the world outside of the trucking bubble. These are the faces of the unseen , and unappreciated. They carry with them the real stories of the deterioration of an industry , the driver shortage myth and the work conditions that require a higher standard of students than the ones graduating from the CDL mills of today.

In order to capture the true experiences of the seasoned female driver population our organization has begun to introduce learning sessions that are free of charge. The first one was held at the Bienes Museum of the Modern Book ceremonial room in Ft. Lauderdale. We thank them for their gracious hospitality.??????????????????????????

Split into four sessions, we covered Microsoft Word ®, Microsoft Excel ®, Facebook and Twitter.

IMG_20140912_121221194_HDRThe first obstacle was finding out that not everyone had Microsoft Office properly loaded on their computers. Often we make assumptions that everyone that has a computer or a tablet knows how to utilize the features it offers. Our learning sessions uncovered very quickly that some of us did not know that we had some very powerful tools at our fingertips that we really never knew were there.

Computers that we use primarily to visit on Facebook and play games have the power to communicate our words and pictures to the public and send a representation of professional drivers that has rarely been given exposure.

One of the exercises in our morning learning session was to use the computer application Microsoft Word® to practice writing letters and creating documents. After practicing some of the basic skills to create and save documents a short essay exercise was assigned that asked participants to do the following:

“Write a few paragraphs explaining to a non-trucker what it was like the first time you drove solo. Do not worry about misspelled words or grammar. Just think about your memory of that first solo run and how you felt and write it now. Start your story with: I remember the first time I drove a big rig solo …

It was an awe-inspiring moment for me to see eyes light up in the class when these seasoned female drivers were given a few basic skills that could help them express how they feel about something they love and cherish.

I have uploaded the PDF links for our Microsoft Basic Word ® for REAL Women Truckers and Microsoft Excel ® for REAL Women Truckers learning sessions to our blog to be used as a self-help tool for those who wish to use them.

As we move toward 2015, our goal is to develop more virtual learning classes and schedule another face to face learning event with a variety of other topics so that we can develop as an organization and bond with one another. We hope to attract more like-kind women truckers that have a desire to improve themselves and the imagery the public perceives as the person behind the wheel of the big rigs.

As always, we welcome your thoughts and comments as we move into the next chapter of our grassroots driver movement.

Our mission is to empower the women of trucking and those entering the industry through outreach programs, continuing education, advocacy, mentoring, networking, and ongoing support to promote retention, encouragement, and unity between both new and seasoned female drivers.

When is it OKAY to Dump a Student Trucker?

Illinois WinterA recent student trucker started a thread on the “Truckers Forum” called “Jeff Foster Trucking Abandoned Me at a Closed Bus Station”, the thread included a short video of the last few minutes the student had on the truck with the trainer. According to the student, the trainer had decided he didn’t want to be trainer and that was the reason he was leaving the student at the Greyhound bus station.

The student stated that he was left at a closed bus station and expressed disgust that he was basically stranded for 5 hours in a strange town. He says he posted the thread and video to warn others and wondered if it had happen to anyone else.

The answer is: YES and it happens often. It is a pretty common practice for trainers to dump students and sometimes not by a bus station. It is an irresponsible practice but it is a fact of this industry. The truth is that this student trucker should understand he or she is actually lucky by comparison to some of the stories of students being dumped by their trainers and carriers.

The student wrote that once he was left at the bus station he had trouble getting anyone from the company to take his calls. The station was closed, he had nowhere to go and he was in a strange town. Sadly, all of these and more are common parts of the dirty underbelly that exists in entry -level driver training.

A huge reason we advise students to demand being taken to a company terminal is so they are not separated from the liability of the company. Only when a student is in an urgent situation where their life is in danger from violence and/or sexual misconduct should they allow themselves to be separated from the trainer or co-driver. If violence, rape or sexual misconduct does occur you must call the police immediately! Make a report of the incident with as much detail as possible, get the report number, the officers phone number and name. Advise the company you have done so and DO NOT BLUFF! If you are just doing the drama mama routine you are on your own!If you have gotten off the truck and said it was an emergency but have no police report it will be turned against you that it wasn’t really an emergency and YOU were really the problem. Otherwise, demand to be taken to the next company terminal to be re-assigned or sent home from the company terminal with a transportation ticket in your hand.

Here is the reason why you should not leave the liability of your carrier unless there is an absolute emergency as described above: Many training carriers will stop taking your calls once you are off their truck but if they know you have a valid police report they will stay interested in you getting transported safely home or into one of their terminals to resume your training. If you have not made such a report and are left behind in a strange town they will often ignore your calls and frankly many will not help you get home. Knowledge is power but most student truckers have no idea that their new employer would allow them to be dumped somewhere. Well, I am telling you right now YES THEY WILL!

You should have emergency funds with you from day one to your last day of trucking because there is always a chance you will become stranded and your company will stop taking your calls. There is a population of training carriers where this could go on for days, sometimes weeks. NOW YOU KNOW!

I shared the link that this student trucker created on both our REAL Women Truckers Facebook page and my personal Facebook page. While the majority of drivers agree that dumping a student anywhere buta company terminal is unprofessional, a rather aggressive female posted on my personal page the following:

Copy of Covenant Master Trainer

It is important to note that this female who defends the dumping students stated she is a “Master Trainer” which means she is like considered a “good one” at the carrier where she works.

I understand that there are many students entering trucking who lack ability, have been poorly prepared by the CDL mills they have attended and honestly there are some who have no business whatsoever putting their hands on the steering wheel of an 18 wheeler, but the fact remains that the carrier hired these people and therefore they are responsible for them.

We do not tolerate a bus driver who would dump passengers on the side of the road because they got tired of transporting them, we would not tolerate a teacher who left students behind who were misbehaving on a field trip. So why is it an acceptable practice for training carriers to allow their trainers to dump student truckers anywhere except back on company property if it is not a life threatening emergency? THEY , the carrier has cleared this student as safe enough to be hire-able and to operate their equipment, therefore they should follow through with these individuals until they are fully trained to become qualified drivers or let go and transported safely home in a timely fashion.

This idea that the company has no responsibility was lost on the female trainer who posted on my page. It just goes to prove another point that recently came up in the New Prime, Inc discrimination case. A judge ruled in August 2014 that New Prime , Inc. same sex training policy violates federal law. The fact is that , just because you are with a same sex trainer does not mean you are safe! A carrier that has no intelligent training or enforcement of a sexual harassment policy , hires more students than they are able to safely train and has low standards in recruiting for students and trainers invites litigation. There is no excuse!

Good trainers are in shortage of both genders, accountability at some carriers is lax and too many students are recruited who really have not been properly filtered for aptitude.

There are many drivers who are cajoled into training when they really do not want to train at all. This is the reason the student trucker claimed his trainer dumped him in the first place. This is not unlikely, it happens often.

It takes a very special person to teach someone how to operate a commercial motor vehicle and it is unnerving to trust a stranger to drive safely while you sleep in a moving 18 wheeler. If the company is hiring unqualified students who are a threat to the trainers safety, the company must be held accountable. If the trainer is dumping students for whatever reason, the company must be also accountable. Either way, a student has a right to a safe training experience, they should not be left stranded in some strange town. This issue must change in entry-level driver training and I am glad the student trucker took the time to expose this practice.

Desiree Wood
REAL Women in Trucking, Inc

The REAL Women in Trucking Inc. is a 501 (c) 6 association that was formed by REAL professional truck drivers that promote safety and wish to improve poor and unsafe entry level truck driver training.

**This post was originally written for our October 2014 newsletter. You can read it in our “Media and Past Newsletters section**

How Does Driver Pay Affect Highway Safety?

Road to Safety The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has launched a survey to collect information to better understand whether drivers who are paid CPM ( Cents Per Mile) rather than for the time they work has any relationship to safety.

A Federal Register is now open for public comments until October 28, 2014. Alas, there are only 19 comments that have been made so far on this regulation docket for consideration on the matter.

It seems like common sense that if you only pay people when the wheels are turning but you expect them to do lots of other work when the wheels aren’t turning they are going to be tired people. Tired people who will have incentive to drive tired so that they can get a decent paycheck.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who work in the supply chain who don’t know much about what it takes to be a truck driver and often they have the desk space and time to make remarks on a topic they really know nothing about. Here are a few remarks from a LinkedIn discussion thread on the FMCSA study on truck driver pay and it’s potential relationship to safety.

The Trucking Recruiter Said:

“An interesting idea. Is the hypothesis that if they’re
paid in cash they are more likely to drive erratically to get home / to the pub faster?
Or that being paid by bank transfer feels more professional and therefore encourages more professional attitudes towards driving?”

The Freight Broker Said:
“I agree with you, Is this really where they think the problem lies…..with HOW drivers are paid? Are we grasping at straws for reasons behind unsafe driving?”

Drivers, you are your own worst enemy when you allow people that are not truck drivers to comment more frequently on regulations that affect you personally. You are part of the problem.

I am including the link here for you to make a comment on the regulatory docket.

Agency Information Collection Activities; Proposals, Submissions, and Approvals: The Impact of Driver Compensation on Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety

Use the link above to go to the website and read the text. Think about what you would like to write. Try to write it in simple terms in order to explain to someone who has no knowledge of what it means to be paid only when the wheels are rolling.

Your firsthand experiences are powerful but they cannot be heard if you do not take the time to express them. I suggest writing out how being paid “cents per mile” rather than hourly or guaranteed salary has placed you in situations that cause you to drive fatigued. Give examples and type them into a Word® document if possible so that you can use spell check before you post your remarks. Do not use foul and abusive language, just make your point.

When you are ready to post your comments, open the link I have created for you to go directly to the docket. At the upper right there is a button that says “Comment”. Click that button and you will be given a place to cut the words you have written in your Word® document and paste into the comment section.

You can always write directly into the comment box but you give yourself the chance of losing your work if your computer crashes or WiFi signal goes out and you may have some words that are overlooked for misspellings. I encourage you to not only make your comments but use the “share” buttons on the regulation docket to share your comments into your social media networks and ask your truck driver friends to make comments as well.

The following are my comments made to the official docket: Regulations

“Low pay and misleading recruiting is a huge factor in turnover and safety. A recent female who made contact with our group made $18,000 for her first year. She left her fast food job and children to go OTR at one of the big training fleets. She, like so many others believed she would be paid a starting range of $45,000. There are no “truth in recruiting” policies in trucking. Lying about wages is the first problem. Experienced drivers and entry level students sign on with a certain expectation that is not delivered to them when they agree to go in good faith out on the road, away from their families.

Many become stranded at truck stops and bus stations with no way to get home after being lied to by recruiters or have an unethical carrier shave their pay to nearly nothing.

The hidden fees and charges in addition to low “cents per mile” (CPM) equation are indeed factors that push drivers to keep going when they are too tired. They have to eat on the road and this is expensive. More and more truck stops have taken away limited truck parking spaces and are charging drivers to park between $11.00 and $25.00 per night. This is not reimbursed by the employer and can mean missing meals in order to pay for it. People who work in the supply chain booking freight often have no clue what HOS even means. They should have to be certified in order to book any truck freight. They have unrealistic delivery expectations and the drivers bear the brunt of this with retaliation if they don’t deliver that “hot load” not matter what it takes.

The pay is also too low to justify the work conditions even if you LOVE over the road trucking.

This is simple math to calculate. A huge majority of truck drivers are receiving a paycheck each week that is under $500.00, many would see a check of that size HUGE!, More often they are getting one that is less than $400.00 per week and this is for 70 hours of work but not limited to the off the clock work that is performed and not logged. This is taught by the employer in log class. To log only 15 minutes once at the shipper/receiver and then go up to the off duty/not driving line even if you are on the dock counting freight, having to unhook your tractor, slide your tandems. These things are work and drivers should be paid to do them.

$500.00/ 70 hours = $7.14 per hour of the hours you are paid to work and this is on a good week!
$400.00/70 hours = $5.71 per hour, this is lower than minimum wage in many states!

The ATA claims drivers want to work 82 hours a week without addressing pay, this is a total lie.

Drivers want to drive more because they are convinced no one will look at the low pay and in order for them to survive they have to drive more, safe or not safe!

I suggest the FMCSA and the labor department look at the wages being paid at government subsidized carriers who also get FEMA contracts or any other special considerations like Werner, Covenant Transport, PAM, Swift, CRST Van Expedited, CR England and SO many more. Look at the wages they are paying students who are not graduating, look at the wages they have cut from experienced drivers and the one sided lease programs being offered that are basically designed to have the driver pay them to work!