A Tale of Two Prospective Lady Truckers

Kimberly Bruce and Imogene Morehouse both have a passion to drive truck.

This is a tale of two prospective lady truckers.

Imogene1Imogene contacted us in January after she was humiliated and expelled from her CDL School in Theodore, Alabama. She had received a Workforce Investment Act grant to pay for her tuition but used it at a local CDL school called Premier Driving Academy.

This school is what we would deem not preferable had we known of Imogene prior to her enrolling there. Imogene was subjected to an environment where there were over 40 students and hardly enough instructors to handle them all. Most of the day at school, Imogene sat on a bench waiting for her turn to get her hands on the wheel of the truck for 15 minutes.

When the state of Alabama changed a rule that their licensing requirement would now require the 90 degree alley dock, the school Imogene was attending went into a tailspin. “Instructors at the school were looking on you tube to learn how to teach the students the skill”, she said. Imogene was not getting enough “hands on the wheel” time. Imogene felt that her personality rubbed the “boss-man” as she referred to him, the wrong way. She said she would try to steer clear of him because she was afraid of him and of his temper towards her. Ultimately, after he berated her on the driving course in front of several other students he expelled her from the school. Imogene felt she was doing well on her shifting, driving and other backing skills but the newly implemented alley dock requirement was an issue since she was not getting enough instruction. Most CDL schools will keep students until they pass the skills tests to get their CDL. This particular school had 40 students from previous months return to the school to learn skills they did not learn while they were enrolled. Imogene was benched to make room for their instruction and expelled by the “Boss-Man” who told Imogene that she had been there long enough and had run out of time. This was after he had berated her and humiliated her on the driving course in front of the other students.

Since, January 2015 we have made phone calls and filed complaints on behalf of Imogene but the agencies who say they are committed to exposing fraud; waste and abuse of programs like WIA have done nothing for Imogene’s situation. Her only request has been that her grant voucher be returned to her so that she can use it for the local community college program CDL truck driver training program in her area. It is unfortunate that when these grant vouchers are issued the student is not counseled on using it wisely and avoiding CDL schools that cannot provide professional and qualified instruction.

As a last resort, Imogene set up an online funding campaign to pay her tuition to go to the community college program. Oddly, another prospective female CDL student made contact with our organization about the same time that Imogene launched her fundraising campaign.  The email had a request to us that we share her link to raise the funds she needed for CDL School in Texas.

KimberlyIn May, Kimberly wrote a personal plea for help to pay for her CDL School tuition. She said she had been through a whirlwind of carriers who would not hire her to become a truck driver. She wrote that she had already taken the written tests on her own and passed. I responded to her after I read her campaign story that I felt she had the passion and perhaps the aptitude for the work of a truck driver but she was approaching her training in a way that could lead her to a carrier that would exploit her. I asked her to call me and she did.

As I spoke to Kimberly and we discussed some of the avenues she was exploring to enter truck driver training, I could tell she was bright and determined but I was unsettled that she had not located any information on the internet at this juncture to make a better decision about the way she was trying to enter trucking. She did not seem to be aware that there were resources available to her and that a community college program may serve her much better.

We get lots of calls and email from women who are in financial situations that do not allow them to come up with tuition to pay for their truck driver training. Many are on the brink of signing up with a high priced CDL Mill type school that will charge them between $5000.00 and $10,000 with interest on a payment plan. They are not aware that they would get better training at a community college.

Some prospective students have no other alternative except to sign on with one of the carrier sponsored training programs that allow the student to work off the tuition. Too often they do not understand that there are some really bad choices of training carriers who offer this alternative. On the other hand, there are a few who are not the worst. Our advice for these individuals is for them to at least find the better of these types of carriers. That is, no team driving students and no lease trucks pushed on students as part of the business model.

In Kimberly’s case, I encouraged her to reach out to community college programs in her area first. She completed this task right away. Within just a few days, Kimberly, who had felt frustrated and was feeling that she was at a dead end, was able to abandon her online fundraising campaign. Through her self-motivated efforts she was awarded a workforce investment act (WIA) grant to pay for her CDL school tuition. She made the right choice to use the grant voucher to attend a community college CDL truck driver training program. This was the critical difference between Imogene’s experience and Kimberly’s. Becoming aware that WIA grant money is misused and issuing agencies are allowing the voucher to be redeemed for sub-standard training is knowledge a prospective CDL student must know to use the grant wisely.

Imogene who received her grant in Alabama was expelled from her CDL School though she did not receive proper instruction to pass her entire curriculum of skills required to pass the road test. Her WIA grant was not returned to her so she could use it at the community college where better training is available. The school had more students than they could handle and not enough instructors. Why should they be entitled to keep the taxpayer funded WIA grant funds? Imogene was left with a crushed dream of becoming a truck driver.

Since Kimberly had taken her WIA grant directly to a community college program she was able to start a quality training curriculum. Kimberly was able to spend more time on her shifting, driving and backing skills because she had already passed her written exams before the start of her classes. Community college programs have fewer students in their classes so there is more “one-on-one” instruction.

It has been very exciting for me personally to read Kimberly’s updates as she progressed. She literally was a woman writing in distress. Imogene and Kimberly are both passionate about becoming a truck driver. I personally know how it feels when you just need someone to point you in the right direction so you can proceed on the right path rather than continue to bump into walls. Imogene’s situation unfortunately has made me feel helpless. She is a woman who is determined but realizes that company sponsored training option will tie her to an entry-level driver training carrier that could be just as bad as the CDL school she attended.

Being tied to a carrier to repay a tuition debt eliminates the freedom to move on to a preferable carrier for a good deal of time. Imogene would have more choices if she came to the training carrier with her CDL in hand after graduating from a CDL School program.

20150630_141552Just a few days ago Kimberly wrote that she was doing well with her driving skills and would be taking her road test soon. She said was struggling with her parallel parking and was concerned. She asked for advice and I explained it the best I could in words and sent her some you tube videos that I felt gave a better visual aid of what I was explaining. Kimberly passed and got her CDL.

Her next challenge is to wade through the misleading training carrier advertisements and speak to recruiters who are salespeople not truck drivers that will paint a rosy picture for her of the company culture.

The tangled web of misinformation, kernels of truth and smiling truck driver pictures is overwhelming for job seekers. As a new CDL holder, Kimberly has improved her marketability by graduating from a preferable CDL School. She has the ability to look beyond the mega meat grinder carriers.

What could have happened if Kimberly simply rented a truck and found someone to teach her enough driving skills to pass the exam? Frequently, a prospective new truck driver will take this route. Quickly they find that in addition to gaining the CDL they are asked to produce a certificate of hours completed. Without this certificate there are very few carriers that will hire them because they are not considered an insurable driver. The certificate is by no means a factual document of how many hours the individual sat in the driver’s seat. Imogene for instance was sitting on a bench most of the day at her CDL school watching forty other students make mistakes during their 15 minutes in the driver’s seat while she eagerly awaited her chance.

The certificate is just a piece of paper that makes a claim of hours of instruction. It does not prove that the individual was actually receiving anyhands-on” instruction. The student may very well have spent a majority of the time watching other students crush cones but nonetheless, the certificate they receive is a ticket to the next step in the process, which is the training carrier.

It is not impossible to get hired though without the certificate. Another scenario for Kimberly is she had proceeded to get her CDL without school instruction could have been that she was able to find an Owner-Operator who would take her on their truck and employ her as 1099 labor. This would defy safety as Kimberly really would not have any road skills. She would not be insurable; nor would she have any employee medical benefits. As a 1099 worker, no employee deductions would be taken from her pay which would leave her with a tax debt at the end of the year. If Kimberly were to get injured or become unemployed she would not be covered as an employee that pays into the system. Kimberly would come to realize that she would only be hirable by an outlaw trucking operation. This type of employer would put Kimberly in situations her where she was taking huge safety risks but she may not even realize it since she had no training. She would not know how the hours of service works and would be at the mercy of her employer telling her how she should manage her time and logbook. She would be on a path for a very short driving career that could include a serious accident.

Thankfully, this is no longer the path Kimberly is on. She is spending the next few days looking at preferable training carriers. Imogene Morehouse unfortunately has been unable to get the WIA grant office in Alabama to work on her behalf towards a resolution. We have filed complaints that have gone nowhere. Imogene is at a roadblock and this is what compelled her to create her own fundraising campaign for CDL school. If you would like to HELP IMOGENE you can donate with this link.

HELP IMOGENE PAY FOR CDL SCHOOL AT BISHOP COMMUNITY COLLEGE

You can also help us by making complaints to the WIA grant system in Alabama that allow taxpayer funded vouchers to be taken by CDL Schools who are not completing the agreement to provide proper instruction to truck driver students. CDL Schools should not be allowed to cash in on these vouchers. They should be required to return them if they cannot provide qualified instruction so the student can get training elsewhere.

Congratulations Kimberly! She was able to make contact with our organization before she went down the wrong path. She made the best decision for her situation which has opened up a wider range of entry-level truck driver job opportunities. Furthermore, she gained accredited college hours should she ever decide to return to school in the future. We will follow her progress as she continues her journey through the first six months at her training carrier.

As we are a new organization with limited funds we unfortunately cannot grant Imogene her wish but we thank those of you who can chip in for her and welcome any assistance toward a solution for her situation.

Questions Unanswered During Women in Transportation Webcast

M1On June 18, 2014 a live webcast was held by Transport Topics that was not widely promoted to women truckers though it “… promised to be a candid 360-degree tour of the most important developing stories in driver recruitment and retention – with a demographic bent (women)”. The event claimed it would cover “Issue by Issue” and it utilized a live chat stream. Questions were requested in advance which we submitted. A few live questions were taken during the event from 3 women and 2 men. The panel consisted of three non-drivers, a driver from Con-Way (a premier carrier) and a married owner-operator who drives team with her Husband. It was difficult to attend the webcast as we are working drivers with limited access to technology but we made it happen. We were ignored, our questions were left unanswered during the Women in Transportation webcast but we have published them below.

The first question is related to the statement that a women truckers “image team” had been formed:

Why is it important to present a positive image of trucking when women entering the industry continue to report sex assaults during training?

Does the panel recognize that each positive image portrayed of a woman trucker encourages another woman to enter the industry who may not have the resources to locate a safe training experience?

Many women entering trucking today are in a financial position that prevents them from attending a preferable CDL School and training carrier. How does this panel advise them given the ongoing sex assault allegations and unsafe training practices at some of the large carriers who train student truckers?

Don’t we have an obligation as the women of trucking to define a safe path to quality training for women so that they are retained by the industry?

Doesn’t concealing an accurate assessment of the personal safety issues that can occur at some training carriers, the work involved and lifestyle changes women should expect, bring an unprepared candidate to the employer? Doesn’t this also waste the time of good trainers that are in shortage?

Does the panel recognize that the experience for a single woman entering trucking is completely different to the experience of a married woman or a woman that has a friend or family support system in the business?

Does the panel recognize that current entry-level driver training practices cannot be compared to the experiences of a seasoned female driver that did not attend one of the larger training carriers that dominate today?

Lisa Mullings, President of NATSO stated in the conference that women hold the buying power. As women in trucking, how can we educate the industry and female prospective truck drivers to avoid carriers who are unwilling to change the way they manage their student populations that have incredible turnover, some of which is related to sex assaults during training? How can the truck stop industry in which Ms. Mullings is the President become informed?

Consumers have changed practices of corporations by demanding change in procedure. Wouldn’t breaking ranks by dropping these types of carriers as sponsors to the WIT organization be a way to speak to this industry on behalf of women who wish to become qualified drivers? Couldn’t supply chain executives help by dropping these carriers from their rotation?

Does the panel recognize that the message they are presenting is that only women with a husband or boyfriend will do well as truck drivers so it’s best to find one and then you can learn how to cook meals in the truck?

Our final question was:

Why are the women of trucking events planned to polarize and eliminate women truckers by way of cost, accessibility, scheduling and technology?

We felt it important for our readers to know we attempted to ask these questions but they were ignored. We did use the twitter option through the transport topics chat feed to show we were attempting to ask these questions live. This way we can all know that they were read and deliberately ignored by the panel.

New CRST Sex Assault Allegations and Trucking Media

As I wrote about in our March 2015 newsletter, since I entered trucking in 2007 I have noticed a palpable exclusion of certain trucking related news by certain trade publications.

Why is seemingly relevant news ignored?

crst-truckLast week when new sex assault allegations against CRST Van Expedited were made public I waited to see which trade publications would cover the topic. I am still waiting. (Read: Courthouse News – Trucking Firm Said to Shrug at Sex Assaults)

The law offices of Joshua Friedman had already made contact with our organization and I shared with them my perceptions of the trucking publications coverage of sexual misconduct and harassment.

Over the years since the 2009 Dan Rather Investigative reports that included the entry-level driver training practices of Covenant Transport and CRST Van Expedited, very few magazines that drivers read had touched on the frequency of sex assault allegations at training carriers.

Social media has been the only outlet to educate prospective CDL students to avoid certain carriers.

As women entering trucking become aware, they begin to seek straight answers on training. Increasingly they are signing up for our newsletter and as I found recently, so does some of the trucking media that do not cover the topic of sex assault in training carriers.

The email response I received from Deborah Lockridge of Heavy Duty Trucking following our March 2015 newsletter implied that our organization was hurting Ellen Voie of WIT. I did not sense any understanding from Deborah that women who are entering trucking with high hopes of making a career of it are being assaulted each day at carriers like CRST Van Expedited.

It became apparent that our seasoned lady driver led organization that was formed to help women entering trucking was seen as personally hurtful and rude to some.

If this is truly the case then we have much bigger problems among the women of trucking.

Ellen Voie has been seated on the entry-level driver training advisory committee but has not declared sex assault allegations have been an issue at some of the carriers who sponsor her organization. This is an important point that should not be overlooked.

CRST Van Expedited reflects a business model of several training carriers that are failing to produce qualified drivers. People of both genders have been hurt financially and physically at these carriers. These are people who entered trucking with the hopes of having a new career and simply wanted the chance to succeed.  

Women making contact with our organization want accurate information about CDL School, training carriers and preferable experienced level carriers who welcome them.

Our newsletter is certainly not as sophisticated as some of the others but it is apparently followed by a few trucking media writers that do not cover rape and sexual misconduct issues occuring in some rather large carriers that train students. Why?

Conflicts of interest at WIT are the reason another organization was formed, most people know that. Women truckers report the most problems at a handful of carriers who are allowed membership at the WIT organization. This has neutralized credibility and it speaks to drivers who are aware that sex assaults, harassment and discrimination is not being addressed in any meaningful way at places like CRST Van Expedited.

Likewise, carriers who wish to improve driver relations are not differentiated from a carrier like CRST Van Expedited.

It is time to break ranks.

Without any established ethical criteria to join an organization how can trust be established between drivers and carriers?

Silencing and intimidating those who have the courage to come forward with their story is the wrong approach.

Many drivers want to find carriers that value the hard work they do and find a way to move beyond the broken entry-level driver training carriers.

We have called for mentors who are aware of the practices at Covenant Transport, CR England and CRST Van Expedited. We want to help new entrants to the industry avoid obstacles at these carriers and others like them so that they can be successful.

The REAL Women in Trucking, Inc. has an ethical criteria policy to advertise and sponsor. We believe that carriers can change but simply buying a logo does not change a culture that has prevalent sexual misconduct, discrimination, driver intimidation and harassment issues. There is real work to be done and it will not happen overnight. 

Trucking isn’t for everyone; we are not trying to encourage women to enter the industry who have an expectation of lady trucks and special treatment. REAL Women in Trucking was formed for those who have the aptitude for the work and need someone to call for advice and direction occasionally.

Our little newsletter is sparse and not too fancy because I write it in between loads from any place I can get some WiFi. We do not have a huge budget or staff to help produce it but we try to let women know the real deal to keep them safe. I’d like to see more people in the industry who actually have an office; a desk and a salary take an interest in helping out by educating this industry how they are failing aspiring women truckers by not breaking ranks with the likes of carriers like CRST Van Expedited. It’s not really that hard to research the flawed business model that contributes to the ongoing sex assault allegations.

Additional Reading:

Gender Discrimination is Silicon Valley is Bad, Gender Discrimination in Trucking is Way Worse – By Mary Pilon

Unit of Truckload Carrier CRST Sued Over Charges of Condoning Harassment of Women Drivers – By Mark B. Solomon

Slideshare: How Sexual Misconduct Affects Trucking Safety – By Desiree Wood