Between the Ditches: ‘Sleeper Test’


April 28, 2011

Trucking’s Shame

“Keep it between the ditches” is highway slang for “drive safe.” This series is provided as a public service by Advance Business Capital.

From Time Magazine:

“Adriesue (“Bitsy”) Gomez, 33, is a “gear-jamming gal with white-line fever.” A woman truck driver from Los Angeles, she is also a pain in the axle to a traditionally macho industry. … Bitsy is out to change the industry’s traditional attitude toward female truckers. Some docking areas still have MEN ONLY signs, and many truck stops routinely refuse to let women truckers use the showers. Worse, says Gomez: “When you lose your job to some 18-year-old punk boy after ten years, it makes you real mad.” … Bitsy has another major gripe. Women truckers, she says, often have to pass a “sleeper test”—having sex with a foreman or male driver—to get a job.”

That Was Then. This is Still Then.

This article was not published last week, or even last year. It appeared in Time’s April 26, 1976 issue. We stumbled on it during a Google search and realized only on a second reading that it was thirty-five years old!

So what does that say about the current status of women in trucking? They are no longer the rarity they were when Bitsy Gomez was driving, but how much discrimination and harassment still goes on?

Here’s a comment from Desiree Wood, better known as “Trucker Desiree,” a mother of two and grandmother of six. Although she has only been an OTR driver since 2009, she has become a well-known (and occasionally controversial) voice for drivers, beginning with the “expose” of the trucking school she attended, which was featured on the syndicated program Dan Rather Presents. This is a recent excerpt from her column on the blogzine, Life on the Road.

Trucker Desiree writes:  “While sexual misconduct on the job happens in all industries, in truck driver training programs it is a unique issue due to the isolated atmosphere and living conditions. The standard operating procedure is to withhold key components to the training such as learning to back the truck, forbidding the student to use the Qualcomm® and not giving them proper 24 [hour] emergency information contacts prior to leaving the terminal with the trainer.

“Recently I met a woman at a social event who turned out to have been a former driver. I will be posting the interview on my You Tube channel this week, but what she told me about her OTR experience was one of many stories that are carbon copies of one another. It goes like this… ‘Convince the female to get on the truck and that they are safe, get them far away from home, give them the ultimatum.’

“In this particular woman’s case she was close to a city and had enough cash to make it to an airport to fly home. Some are not so lucky. She also had enough experience and was fortunate to find another job where she went on to drive for another twenty-plus years and maintained an excellent record.

“Deb is another gal I have come to know from my writings on this topic. She was raised by her grandmother; her brother was a truck driver. She was a tomboy and eventually wanted to become a truck driver herself.  Deb says her grandmother taught her many things but never about what bad men will do to a young naive girl. When Deb was 20 years old, an older driver agreed to ‘take her under his wing.’ Nice guy, right?

“In minus 40 below temperatures, he stopped 10 miles outside of town and told Deb to perform oral sex on him or walk back to town. He then told everyone at the employer that Deb was a whore in order to discredit her before she had a chance to collect her thoughts about the incident. Deb went on to have an eight plus safety rating in Canada, which is where she is from. This was not the last incident she encountered but if you love your job then you keep your mouth shut about such things. That is the fact of life for some women, especially women known not to have any support system and no one to call for help.”

Outrageous, But How Common?

These examples are obviously outrageous, but they don’t necessarily make the case that there’s widespread harassment in the trucking industry, only that it exists, which no reasonable person doubts.

That’s the real issue. What has changed? Something, we hope. It would be too depressing to think that there have been no advances for women truckers in 35 years.

The CRST Case

A year ago, a federal court threw out a sexual harassment case filed on behalf of female truckers against CRST Van Expedited, a large carrier based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Chief U.S. Judge Linda Reade ruled that the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission had failed to prove harassment and ordered the government to pay CRST $4.4 million in legal fees.

Ellen Voie, President of the Women in Trucking Association, and a prominent advocate for female advancement, agreed to a video interview at GATS [2010], but when asked about the CRST decision, declined to condemn it, commenting that there was a lack of actual evidence and making a passing reference to people who have a “victim psychology.”

Ellen Voie Voices Her Opinion Voie’s comments, which in fairness were less than a minute out of a 45-minute interview, were put on YouTube™ and touched off a small firestorm of controversy. We’ll examine the implications of that in the second part of this two-part series in next month’s Between the Ditches.

Sources for this article include Time, Life on the Road, Women in Trucking, Ask the Trucker, Real Women in Trucking and Cedar Rapids Gazette.