At Mary Review, Mary Pilon writes about the experiences of women in the trucking industry, highlighting stories of sexual harassment and threats of violence that often get brushed to the wayside by industry employers and supervisors. The article notes that many women who seek out trucking jobs are in their 40s and 50s, are re-entering the workforce after a period away, and are attracted to a career that doesn’t require a higher education but can potentially yield a six-figure salary. Pilon begins the story with Cathy Sellars, who sought out a trucking job at age 55 after her divorce:
Cathy Sellars can still remember the look of the knife her truck-driving instructor toyed with as they roared down the Arizona interstate. Sometimes he’d rest its finger-long blade on his leg, where it caught the glare of passing headlights as they drove through the night on their way from California; sometimes he’d set it on the dash. Earlier in the ride, he’d used it to cut up steaks. The way he was holding it now, though, sent a message, she thought. She was in danger.
In the days leading up to this moment during the road portion of her trucker training in February 2014, Sellars says the instructor showed her pornographic images on his smartphone and told her that he wanted to tie her up and “do things to her.” She consistently refused his advances. They argued after she complained to dispatch that she was too tired to drive. He got angry and “shoved me on the passenger seat and messed up my shoulder and my head.” He started driving, and then the knife came out. When we speak in July 2015, she’s still rattled, but her tone is deliberate; at the time, she remembers being petrified. “I didn’t realize the pain until I got to Riverside,” she says. “That’s how tense.”
Pilon also digs into the many sexual harassment and discrimination cases brought against the trucking industry — including cases brought against CRST, the trucking company where Sellars trained.
Tom Newkirk, a civil-rights attorney, represented LaRhonda Austin, an African American trucker who filed a sexual-harassment case against CRST in 2013 alleging that one of her trainers talked repeatedly about his sexual history, forced her to urinate in a cup rather than stop at a restroom, referred to Austin as “black sugar,” and, when she was wearing a tank top, told her “[those] girls look nice in that top”; another trainer propositioned her for sex, touched her waist, held her hand, attempted to hug her, and “tried to pretend he was in a romantic relationship.” Austin claimed that she was retaliated against by CRST for filing her sexual-harassment claims. Her case made it before a jury, which ruled in the company’s favor. Newkirk credits gender bias with the suit’s outcome. “It’s a constant theme for anyone who investigates sexual-harassment complaints in trucking,” he said. “They’re consistently devaluing the content of the testimony of a woman because she’s a woman.”
In other news:
Huffington Post: Dave Jamieson reports on an encounter that three Teamster organizers had with police when they were leafleting outside of transportation company XPO Logistics in Port Wentworth, Georgia. The Teamsters were handing out informational flyers to truck drivers while standing outside the company gates on a public right-away when someone from XPO called the police, who accused the union organizers of impeding traffic. There’s a video of the encounter on the Huff Post site if you follow the link at the beginning of this paragraph. According to the article, a police officer made a comment about ensuring that “everybody can continue to breathe fresh air” and wrote in the citation that organizers were “picketing drivers to become union.” Jamieson reports: “A lawyer for the Teamsters sent a letter to the city attorney saying the union would sue Port Wentworth if the charges against the organizers are not thrown out. The lawyer asserted that the Teamsters were targeted for their union organizing, and that there was ‘no other reasonable interpretation’ of the ‘fresh air’ remark other than that ‘the Police Department considers union activity pollution.’”
In These Times: Alex Ding reports on a new ruling from the National Labor Relations Board that allows temporary and permanent employees to negotiate as mixed bargaining units. The ruling overturns a previous rule adopted under the George W. Bush administration that said a union could only organize a bargaining unit of temp and regular employees if both employers consented; however, the new ruling says no employer consent is required if workers share a “community of interest.” Ding writes: “For labor and working people, the ruling represents an exciting precedent from the board. The ruling makes it more challenging for employers to avoid labor contracts by using temporary services and removes some obstacles for workers in negotiating effectively with their bosses.”
The New York Times: Catherine Saint Louis reports on a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine that found some female physicians at public medical schools earn nearly $20,000 less a year, on average, than their male counterparts. The article notes that the new study includes a much larger sample than previous research on the same topic, and that researchers went to “great lengths” to control for other contributing factors, such as patient volume. Among the study findings, female neurosurgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons made about $44,000 less than male counterparts, while female orthopedic surgeons made about $41,000 less than their male colleagues. Radiology was the only specialty in which women made more than men. Saint Louis writes: “Pay differences by gender appeared across all faculty ranks. Full female professors made roughly the same income ($250,971) as male associate professors ($247,212) despite outranking them.”
The Washington Post: Des Bieler reports on a class-action lawsuit filed against the WWE on behalf of dozens of wrestlers, who allege that they incurred “long term neurological injuries” while working for the company, which then didn’t provide adequate medical care for injured employees. Beiler writes: “The class-action suit addressed the possibility of the company invoking a contact-sports exception for negligence liability by stating, ‘WWE wrestling matches, unlike other contact sports, involve very specific moves that are scripted, controlled, directed and choreographed by WWE. As such the moves that resulted in Named Plaintiffs’ head injuries were the direct result of the WWE’s actions.’”
Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for nearly 15 years.