During World War II, many believed that "Rosie the Riveter" came to the rescue of America's worker-short factories. Now, it may be that "Trudy the Trucker" is a key to help bail out the nation's driver-starved trucking industry.
Trucking is reeling from a driver shortage that, experts say, could affect the country's economic health. Hundreds of thousands of new drivers must be hired to meet current and near-future demands.
Many experts are now of the opinion that the male-dominated industry must consider the advantages of an enormous pool of potential drivers - women, who, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, currently make up only 5% of the 3 million-plus drivers. Thus, obviously, women are under-represented in the driving ranks and exploring non-traditional driving candidates, like female workers, would seem to be a sensible approach. But, from the perspective of concerns regarding labor/employment laws, the trucking industry must make women feel welcome and avoid what could be problematic and costly workplace infusion.
In this day and age of concern over competitive wages, employment analysts are confident that women would be attracted to the salaries within the driving industries - which are often 20% to 30% higher than jobs women traditionally enter.
But, again, developing a more "gender hybrid" workforce is not without potential problems. The influx of more female workers must be properly addressed by employers through: (1) implementation of sensitivity training; (2) policy and procedures review; and (3) attention to maintaining a harassment-free workplace.
Owners simply cannot tolerate any semblance of a hostile work environment or other forms of sexual harassment. Instead, they must create a level of comfort for women to work smoothly and productively alongside men. Training should be provided to employees and supervisors. Further, if utilizing female drivers as a viable work pool to fill the shortage of drivers is to work, many advocates also recognize that the industry has to dispel the inaccurate belief that it's a "man's job." Less enlightened employees must be advised, if not reminded, of what they can or cannot say and how they can and cannot legally act.
In short, if handled the wrong way by trucking employers, the results can be devastating. Indeed, the facts speak for themselves . . .
A woman driver working for a New Jersey trucking company was awarded $250,000 earlier this year after claiming she suffered repeated on-the-job harassment at the company's Clifton, N.J., location from supervisors and other employees, ranging from vulgar language to potentially criminal misconduct, including the sabotaging of her truck's brakes and engine tampering.
In Ohio, a trucking company, which operates terminals throughout the eastern United States, was ordered to pay nearly $2 million for refusing to hire 200 female truck drivers and dockworkers and retaliating against a male manager in Maryland who refused to carry out company orders to ignore female applications.
In a separate case, the above-referenced Ohio company was required to pay $500,000 to five female employees for permitting offensive vulgarity at its PA headquarters. Examples of the improper conduct with the expensive price-tag were: (1) screaming at female employees; (2) referring to them in sexually derogatory terms; and (3) requiring them to perform personal chores for the owners, such as picking up laundry and having the owners' personal cars cleaned.
One recent federal jury awarded $2.3 million to a female FedEx supervisor for retaliating against her because she supported the sexual harassment claims by a female truck driver and for voicing concerns that she was being discriminated against.
Thus, clearly, while the need to attract female drivers is deemed important by industry analysts, employers must review their employment policies and standards to avoid problems. The rationale behind this need to focus on alternate driving pools and increased benefits is because the shortage statistics are clear. A new study released in May 2005 by the American Trucking Association, said there is currently a 20,000 driver shortage in the long-haul, heavy-duty truck industry, which represents 1.3 million of the 3.4 million truck drivers on the nation's roads. "The driver market is the tightest it has been in 20 years," said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. "It's critical that we find ways to tap a new labor pool, increase wages and recruit new people into the industry that keeps our national economy moving."
The current shortage is only the tip of the iceberg. The ATA said over the next 10 years, economic growth will generate a need for 320,000 long-haul heavy-duty truck drivers, and another 219,000 must be found to replace drivers 55 and older who will retire in the next decade. Due to this problem, and to address staffing issues, many companies are now offering attractive incentives to drivers, such as employee appreciation monetary awards and similar perks, generous 401(k) plans and matches, top-tier health insurance plans, and even more "family-friendly" arrangements that could include taking spouses, kids (and, yes, even pets) on the road.
The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected an almost 20% increase in drivers needed between 2004 and 2010. That translates to about 600,000 new drivers (over a six-year period) and that's not even addressing issues involving retaining existing drivers.
Thus, industry experts like Steven Brantley, a driver security manager at USA Truck has said "the nationwide shortage of drivers forces us to re-think traditional sources [for drivers]." Brantley has also stated that he has hired many female drivers and found them to be "excellent drivers and good company representatives. I wish I had more female drivers."
In sum, the industry must be proactive to deal with its employee staffing issues and consider unorthodox approaches to meet their needs. Yet, employers must make sure to recruit legally and must be committed to implementing proper policies/procedures to maintain a work environment free from harassment/discrimination. To achieve such vital goals and avoid unnecessary (and often costly) legal headaches, the authors of this article are actively advising their trucking industry clients to engage in focused diversity training, as well as harassment-awareness programs. In addition, employers' handbooks and the like should be reviewed and, where necessary, modified to ensure that the said policies are properly tailored and sensitive to the changing landscape of the trucking industry's workforce. Indeed, such policy drafting and review, as well as the providing of educational training programs for company employees and supervisors are among the wide array of management-side labor/employment legal services provided by the authors and their Firm, Grotta, Glassman & Hoffman, P.C. While training and policy review should be viewed as necessary components of any employer's human resources arsenal, unfortunately, many mid-size to boutiquette level companies are not actively adopting such protective measures.
The bottom line is that, the issues facing the trucking industry are not terribly dissimilar to the "available labor pool" struggles faced by certain other types of industries. That being said, those companies that operate trucking-related businesses, need to learn from both the mistakes and successes of those industries that have had to deal with such issues. By way of example, the allied health care industry has, for many years, had to contend with shortages among its nursing professionals. As such, significant time, money, and efforts have been invested by health care facilities (i.e., hospitals, nursing homes, etc.) to attract a diverse group of employees. In the process, these allied health care operations, have implemented detailed programs to promote and enhance diversity awareness, tolerance, and have utilized dramatic harassment training initiatives.
Trucking industry entities (and even the transportation industry as a whole) should look to such concerted efforts as a loose guide. Unless the trucking industry embraces the need to legally implement and educate its workforce, including supervisors, regarding proper standards of conduct, the potential for trouble is significant. As more and more female employees start getting behind the wheel within the trucking industry, a lack of adequate policies, procedures, and training will surely result in increased harassment claims and litigation. Thus, the old adage regarding "an ounce of prevention" is truly applicable and appropriate to trucking industry entities that need to explore adding more female workers.
Francis V. Cook and Tedd J. Kochman are Principals in Grotta, Glassman & Hoffman, p.c., a firm that focuses on the exclusive representation of management in labor, employment, corporate immigration, and employee benefit laws and related litigation. In an effort to further assist its transportation industry clients and offer its services to industry players throughout New York/New Jersey, authors Cook and Kochman (along with colleague Mark Tabakman -another labor/employment specialist at the Firm), provide free "meet and greet" seminars and a transportation industry publication called Speed Bumps. These meetings are open to any transportation industry company, including limousine outfits, bus companies, taxi/cab providers, etc. These gatherings allow the attendees to discuss their business challenges as they relate to employment issues and offer educational information. The publication Speed Bumps is a "transportation specific" newsletter that addresses hot topics within the industry. Information regarding these meetings and/or Speed Bumps, can be obtained by contacting either Mr. Cook or Mr. Kochman at their Roseland, New Jersey office.