Monday, July 6, 2009

There Oughta Be a Law

You already read the good part of this trip, but get a cup of coffee and pull up a chair. If I don't blog about the injustice of how Kelly was treated, I'm going to explode. *smile*

When we moved to TN in 2004, jobs were hard to come by. The community we moved to had already been stripped bare by businesses moving to Mexico or Europe in order to keep operating. That problem has continued and even worsened. There is really only one industry that offers hope for the unemployed, and that's the trucking industry. Unfortunately, the games they play with people are just downright cruel.

Before my husband could become a truck driver, he had to graduate from a truck-driving school. The cost: $5995. If you have cash, they'll discount it, but if not, they finance it for you so you actually end up paying another couple thousand. If you are unemployed, don't have a healthy savings, then what other choice do you have? Of course, they promise the trucking company who hires you at the completion of your training will pay a portion of the loan back.

So, Kelly took the training, we incurred the cost, and he went to work for Werner. The twenty-six cents a mile you earn is great as long as your wheels are turning, but they don't tell you about all the time you'll sit in desolate lots, bad neighborhoods, or truck stops, waiting to be dispatched. You don't earn anything at all, and that's where my husband spent most of his time. He quit several times, but the inability to find other work, drove him back. The last time, after spending ten hours broken down on the side of the road because a bad load shifted, then being penalized for driving the truck to a safe spot off the freeway for the night, was the final straw. Our check that week...$17.57. Our monthly payment for the school...$175.00. Luckily, he landed something local.

For the last 2 1/2 years, he's worked at a local distribution company, delivering goods to Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. But the economy has closed so many stores his employer had to lay off over one half of the work force. Imagine our surprise to discover that most big trucking companies don't recognize his current experience as over-the-road because he came home every night. So. we're back to trying to find him a job in an industry that is still hiring. President Obama's stimulus package is providing new infrastructure jobs, but my husband isn't qualified for any of them. Nice to know we'll have new bridges to empty buildings. *lol* Oops...that remark should have gone on my other blog. Sorry!

Let's dissect that experience theory. Hubby went to work, got in a 'day-cab' but pulled at 53 foot trailer on the roadway , but because he parked it in the company lot at night and came home...he's lacking experience needed for several companies. I'm confused. Are you?

I guess if he'd driven a sleeper cab and bunked in the parking lot, it might have made a difference in his eligibility to drive. Some how, I doubt it.

BUT...I haven't even got to the meat of this post. The driving schools are like 'puppy mills'. They turn out thousands of students to various companies every week. New orientations and hiring start usually on each Monday. That's because so many people wash out or discover they can't handle the stress. Trust me, I know there is tons of stress because I rode with my husband on several occasions. Bad directions is one of them. Dispatch sent us in the wrong direction so many times, I couldn't count them. You can't just whip a u-turn in one of those over-sized monsters..and you have to be sure you aren't on a truck-restricted road or approaching a low bridge. See...I'm off track again.

Anyhow...with no work in our area of Tennessee...or anywhere nearby, my husband applied via internet to C.R. England. You work through a "Recruiter," and if you're lucky, you get one who actually returns your emails and keeps you informed. I won't tell you which he got. :) Anyhow...the recruiter is charged with checking your DMV and DAC reports and making sure you are hire worthy.

After three weeks, Kelly was given instructions on what to bring and provided with a confirmation number for a glorious 15-hour Greyhound bus ride to Gary, Indiana. Upon his arrival, he was shuttled to an old, but fairly decent motel. During the day, he underwent a physical ($35.00 charge), a drug test, and a road test. The next day was spent filling out forms (application all over again, insurance forms, tax forms, bank information for automatic get the drift. Wouldn't you think this indicated you were a GO? Shouldn't all nasty secrets have come out BEFORE they sent you to orientation? All around him, people were being disqualified. Some for reasons they clearly indicated on their applications via recruiter, and others for reasons he didn't know. One guy just disappeared, left his belongings, and never was seen again. And...if you are DQed, you have to foot the bill for your own way home. Hard to do for some of those he met there...they couldn't even afford to bring food with them for the days required.

On the third day, after being grilled for one entire session with persuasions about signing up to lease a truck rather than be a company driver, Kelly made it through the orientation with hair still on his head. He was transferred to another motel, this one supposedly easier for trainers to pick up their new teammates. Since Kelly hadn't drive OTR for the past 2 1/2 years, he was required to ride with a trainer for ten days before he could be assigned to his own truck with a teammate. C.R. England only allows solo driving if you are a lease-owner. Okay...he was fine with that.

The money he thought he would receive for orientation turned out to be a farce. The REAL earning was supposed to begin the moment he stepped toe into his trainer's truck. The recruiter said he must have misunderstood her.

Of course, the holiday weekend interfered in the worst way. He was told, unless he heard by 4:00 in the afternoon on Thursday, he would be expected to lay around the flea-bag they delivered him to until Monday sometime. Now mind you, Kelly uses a CPAP machine for his sleep apnea, and it's something he had to declare to remain DOT compliant. He told the woman who arranges the trainers...not once, but THREE times, that he needed to be assigned to someone with a converter installed to handle it. I believe him...he tells me the same things over and over. *lol*

So...the motel was horrible. People checking out at the desk were scratching and complaining of being bitten, rumors were flying about crabs being discovered (and not the kind you order in a good restaurant), and Kelly said his room smelled putrid...a combination of bug spray and body odor. The shower bottom was brown (white tub...not supposed to be), and the accommodations were more suited to...well, not anyone human with taste.

Shortly after check-in and avoiding his room at all costs, he received a phone the same time, realized he'd been bitten by something on his forearm. While he talked, he scratched, and watched his arm swell. The trainer was on his way to pick Kelly up.

Now remember, these people are supposed to train new drivers. Most without a lot of experience. Kelly's needs are more in learning the paperwork and qualcom (computer in the truck) than actually road experience. The trainer mentioned he was a lease operator and in order to make his payments, needed to run hard and fast. He drove a dedicated Walmart run and averaged 6500 miles per week, which would require them to each drive a full eleven hours per day. When Kelly asked when training would take place, the guy suggested Kelly would have to sacrifice some of his sleeping time and ride passenger and study, etc. In the end...he had no converter, so the point was moot.

You see, the only way these people can keep up with their $500 weekly truck payments and expenses is to run pedal to the metal and get the best routes by being an owner-operator. They get ninety cents per mile and pay their trainees ten cents per mile during their time on the truck. And anyone can be a trainer. That's why, after the ten days or thirty in some cases, you have to return to the orientation site (and the flea-bag motel) and test out to assure that you received proper training. This is another point where you can be DQed as was the young lady Kelly met in the motel. She was on her way out because she couldn't parallel park her big rig. question one!!! Why didn't her trainer teach her...and number two...when would you need to parallel park a truck that big? Kelly learned to jacknife his cab to park the trailer at school, but C.R. England evidently wanted the whole shebang parked. Of course this is just her word...she may have failed for an entirely different reason, but just to show that after all that time, you still aren't safe.

Back to reality and facing three days in hell. His arm continued to swell, redden, and itch. The employees for C.R. England had left for the holiday weekend, and Kelly had no resources for medical help. Hell, there wasn't even any eating establishments nearby, and calling for delivery cost an arm and a leg. Most of the fellows there were stone broke, starving, and desperate. But for the Grace of God, Kelly wasn't in that predicament...yet!

After we talked on the phone, I gave him two solutions...move to another motel and pay for it, or come home. He hadn't told me about the bite on his arm yet, but my preference was still the later. If an employer treats you like this before they hire you, you really can't expect much better, can you?

So...another fifteen hour bus home, this time on our dime. Kelly left a message for the lady in charge, telling her he had an emergency and needed to go home. Not a lie. His arm looked horrible when he arrived. Of course too late on Friday to get into a doctor, but he went today. The doc suspected a bite (big shock), but because of the huge knot, prescribed an antibiotic. In the meantime, Kelly's ear started hurting. One ear is severely infected, and the other has a foreign object in it. (are you thinking what I'm thinking? Yuk) Kelly has to see a specialist to have whatever it is removed. In the meantime, I'm cringing, thinking what it might be after he spent so much time in crummy, nasty areas...and that includes the Greyhound depots. I've never seen such filth in my life. Their new slogan should be...Go Greyhound, get infected!

Is he going back? No way. My husband deserves to be treated a whole lot better, and we've written to C.R. England and told them so. He's not turning down employment, rather stating what happened and telling them if they can pick him up in Nashville, put him on a qualified truck so that he doesn't violate DOT regs, then he'll be happy to become their employee. Something tells me it ain't happnin'. He's just one drop in a great big bucket.

Oh, and I also wrote to 20/20 and Sixty Minutes to ask them to investigate what kind of kickbacks the companies get from the government that allows them to shove lease options down people's throats and then watch them fail. We've heard rumors about it, and I would truly like to know. Like my title said...There Oughta Be a Law against companies who treat people in need like they're dirt.

I guess we should have believed what we read on the trucker's forum where drivers report bad companies. C.R. England had pages and pages of entries, and none of them good. So...It's not like we weren't warned. We just gave a family owned and operated company the benefit of the doubt. Wrong call on our part.

I guess what I'm trying to stress with this post, is "driver beware." Ask tons of questions, make sure you don't "misunderstand" the payment terms, and listen when someone warns you. You know that saying you've seen on tee shirts: My folks went to Disneyland and all I got with this crummy shirt. We're getting one for Kelly that says: I went to C.R. England for Orientation and all I got was a big doctor bill. Office call, antibiotics...and Forty dollars for eardrops....pahlease!

Thankfully, because orientation wasn't paid and Kelly never actually WAS hired, then he didn't forfeit his unemployment. Think of all those who did. Now what do they do? I discovered a new-found respect for truckers when Kelly started the first time, but now, I really, really respect those who can wade through the B.S.and actually make the grade. You guys and gals rock!


Molly Daniels said...

What a saga! Hope he's okay, Ginger! That's just AWFUL! Hugs to Kelly.

Anita Davison said...

What a horrible story, Ginger. I'm glad he's back home where people care about him - and thankful we don't have bugs like that in England!!!!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Incredible story. I knew truck drivers had it tough, but this is a disgusting super scam on hard-working people who just want to make a decent living.

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