Student Member Roll Call August 2015

Desiree and RonnyOur first few members are now on their own trucks and at the end of their first six months as truck drivers. We have followed them through their CDL School, choosing their training carriers and the tribulations they encountered along the way.

Members Desiree and Ronny started their second career as truck drivers in January. She owns an interior design business and he recently retired from the Fire Department. They are from North Carolina. They ran into challenges during their CDL School testing because of difficult scheduling.

The next obstacles were finding a carrier that allowed a pet. Pets are not allowed during the training period though and they had no help to house their elderly exotic kitty.  At one point they thought that they would train one at a time. Ronny thought about going to a flatbed carrier and Desiree would find a local driving job until they could work out arrangements for their pet. There was concern that Desiree’s new driving skills would become stale the longer she waited to get back behind the wheel of a truck. She also encountered resistance being hired for local driving work because she didn’t have any real road experience yet.

Unexpectedly, their elderly cat passed away which changed their situation. Being a married couple, Desiree and Ronny had different concerns than most of our members. Still, they wanted to choose a carrier that had a better reputation for training. They began CDL School in November 2014 and they are now team drivers at Schneider. Some of the other unforeseen issues they encountered as trainees have been a limit on the size of the inverter they could have on their truck and motion sickness when trying to sleep in the bunk.  Desiree remarked in one of her emails to me that they had no idea how bad the infrastructure of our country was until they saw it and felt it in a big rig. I agree, it is sure hard to sleep when your bedroom hits a pothole!

Mindy and LaurenOur Mother and Daughter members who set out to team drive had to leave their training at Covenant Transport due to safety concerns with their trainer who slept on the top bunk while they drove. Besides his actions being against company policy it placed them in some very unsafe situations. They quit the carrier and moved on to US Xpress where the Mother reports she had a good trainer but her Daughter had a trainer who was insisting she use a porta-potti with him on the truck and he was using it as well. This is really offensive to hear about when you consider how small these tractors are. To smell another person going to the bathroom that you barely know, especially “number two” is beyond disgusting!

Students should not have to be subjected to a trainer who does this. If the loads are scheduled so tight that the trainer cannot stop the truck to properly use the bathroom there is a problem. This is unacceptable. Thankfully, they made it through the training and they are also now on their own truck. As a reminder , the RWIT organization discourages students from choosing Covenant Transport or US Xpress though we do have members currently at both carriers and we do the best we can to keep in contact with them.

Currently RWIT has 56 female student members who are in their first 6 months of their training. It has been a challenge to keep up with them all by phone, email and through our Facebook page “REAL Women Truckers”.

Here is some advice from our current CDL student members for those who are just entering and wanting more insight as you research this industry.

Jennifer Says: “I would advise anyone who doesn’t have a community college nearby to look for a family-owned trucking school. I found one run by a married couple who both have over a decade of experience in trucking. The wife is the office manager, and she was a truck driver for 12 years. That really impressed me! I didn’t talk to a receptionist (there wasn’t one). Everywhere else, I talked to an office worker and never met anyone who I would be learning from. I think a family-owned school might be that needle in the haystack. Past students are constantly coming by to chat and tell them about how much they like their job. Not all will be like this, but it’s worth mentioning!

Jennifer’s advice to new students is “Stay alert, observant, focused, and if you aren’t good at saying NO, learn how to fast.  You have to be able to assert your boundaries.”

Kelly started at Swift Academy and has graduated from her mentoring. She says that her Swift mentor was able to answer most of her questions and if he couldn’t answer, he pointed her towards someone who could.

She advises students to read contracts VERY carefully.  She does feel that the lease she signed to become an owner operator was not clear to her. She didn’t realize that she had switched divisions within the company as a result of getting into a lease truck and that canceled the team agreement which would have made her tuition free after 6 months. In hindsight she wishes she would have “re-read” ALL of the contracts she signed for both Swift and the School.

Kelly says: “Do your research! Read forums, talk to drivers, and ask your recruiter as many questions as you can think of. Read EVERY piece of paper your school and company gives you. Twice!

She also says that carrier mentor (trainer) time is the roughest time, even if your mentor rocks. It WILL eventually end. Your first week out, you’ll wish you were still with them. My first mentor wasn’t great Kelly says and she had to leave his truck at the end of her first week. Her second mentor was AWESOME! Also, her first “Driver Manager” (DM) wasn’t very helpful but she found switching DMs was quick, easy and solved the problem”. (This is not the case at all training carriers though.)

Kelly shares this advice to newbies: “If you’re going to drive OTR, get an OTR mentor”. Kelly’s mentor ran a dedicated route and there were things she didn’t have the opportunity to experience until she was on her own. It worked out because she is now team driving with her boyfriend. She says if she was solo her first month it would have been pretty rough.

Overall, Kelly says she has been doing pretty well at Swift. The few minor snags were primarily based on her own lack of knowledge. She feels she is making decent pay for a new driver and she gets as many miles as she is comfortable with. At this time she says that they are content with the Swift lease program but will probably go back to company driving once they have the experience they need to go to a company with better driver policies. They chose to lease to avoid having a driver-facing camera installed in the truck, and so that they can have a little more freedom like having their pet and a wider choice of loads. Kelly wrote that the pay really does not increase by much once expenses are factored in so it’s really the freedom factor that is the real trade-off.

As a rule, RWIT discourages first year students from getting involved in any training carrier that pushes lease trucks. Specifically New Prime, Inc., CR England and CRST. There is just too much to learn in the first year about trucking before being saddled in debt and these carriers work to indoctrinate you to buy a truck from day one. The contracts are very one-sided, often you are not allowed to have a lawyer review them before signing them. Very few who get into these programs ever see the title to that rig. As Kelly points out they are not making more money after expenses.

One student female member wrote that she aspired to go straight to flatbed work but had been disqualified over the balancing on one foot requirement for the agility test. She was working toward being more prepared for the next carrier she applies to. 

Ultimately her goal is to become an owner-operator and wants to take her two large dogs on the road with her.

New drivers must be prepared for physical aptitude. Even if you are only going to be doing dry van work you must be able to lift at least 75 lbs and you must be able to climb. 

We try to discourage female students from choosing training carriers where team driving is a component of training because of the frequency of sexual misconduct in these types of carriers. Here is a recent article that was published in Jezebel on this topic: “Unhappy Trails: Female Truckers Say They Faced Rape and Abuse in Troubled Training Program

Unfortunately, due to financial reasons there are many women who have no other choice to sign onto these types of carriers. In these cases we try to keep in communication with the student more frequently to see how things are going but avoiding them altogether until they implement sweeping change to their corporate culture is preferable.

We have three single female student members that have recently graduated at Schneider National. Rose writes that students come straight from CDL School to the company as a company driver.  It’s a bit confusing but as we understand it, the students receive additional training at Schneider before going out on a truck with a trainer. Sort of a second CDL school curriculum where they learn skills but return to the terminal rather than just go right out with a trainer on an OTR truck. On day one of orientation there is a physical and pre hire physical assessment that is almost a 12 hour day. It is unpaid and defined as an “admin day”. Students who are told that they will be paid $80.00 a day should be aware of this because they are there the entire day and if they leave they cannot continue.

It is important the new trucking students understand that overtime is not paid in truck driver training carriers. Therefore, one 12 hour day at $80.00 might seem good but if you calculate it you are being paid less than minimum wage. (about $6.66 per hour) You must be prepared to budget accordingly. The first year of trucking can be difficult financially.

The segment where the student will go with the trainer is shorter than in many of the other training carriers we have heard of but the preliminary training seems to be more through.  Still, even when students are pushed hard to cover miles, the pay is $80.00 a day gross. One student reported that she ran out of legal DOT hours on one of her shifts.

One thing many of our students have mentioned is that they find it offensive when their trainers use pee bottles and require them to use one also and they do not like it when the trainer talks about their sex life with them. Both male and female trainers are guilty of this type of unprofessional behavior. Carriers are failing to teach trainers professional conduct when they have a student on the truck. 

Students should also be aware of a recent settlement reached with Celadon on discriminating hiring practices related to pre-employment medical examinations. The trucking industry is very slow to adapt to labor laws so we believe that there are more carriers who have probably been mishandling the way they do these screenings.  Here is the link to familiarize yourself with this practice: Celadon Trucking to pay $200,000 to settle pre-employment physical screening lawsuit

New students should read our FAQ section and understand there are some carriers to avoid completely for their training but also realize there are very few that don’t have some issues with unprofessional behavior from their trainers and potential co-driver population. You can minimize issues yourself by doing your research thoroughly before choosing a CDL School and a training carrier but unfortunately there is no silver bullet.

UPDATE: 8/30/2015 A sexual assault on a trainee has been reported on Swift with inadequate response from the dispatcher and company. If there are others who have experienced such an issue with Swift within the past 300 days please contact Desiree Wood for further information to take steps

If you feel your personal safety is at risk and your training carrier is not responding adequately: Call the police, make a report, get the officers phone number and the case number. Get in touch with someone at the carrier to get you off the truck and in a safe place. You may contact us in an emergency situation for guidance and information. 561-232-9170 

We hope our movement can change that in the future.

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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.


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.