Guest Post: Lowered Hiring Standards for Truck Drivers Increases Risk to Public and Co-Workers
Updated: Jan 18
Freymiller, England, and CRST
I was there and can name names because I was there – these stories impact all of us as employees, but most seriously, the ones who were victims of this behavior and these common corporate procedures and protocols.
There will always be exceptions to the standard scenario, one of which I’ll elaborate on in the CRST section, but I can state with a lot of pain, because I witnessed these events, that there is a corporate disregard for the safety and respect of women in the trucking world. That sounds like politically correct terminology, but if my wife, sister, daughter, or other significant female in my life had been subjected to what these ladies were, I probably wouldn’t be a free man to carry on in society.
I’m writing this article in hopes that Desiree Wood, in her efforts to improve and ensure the safety of women in trucking, would benefit from another version of the many stories she’s already heard.
Freymiller Trucking in Oklahoma City is a large company that specializes in refrigerated freight. I was employed there as a driver recruiter in 2017 and the beginning of 2018 and saw something I’d never before seen in trucking: a company deliberately lowering their standards in reference to criminal convictions and driving records in order to employ more drivers. I also witnessed sexual harassment in the recruiting office, another first for me. My youngest son was employed at Freymiller in their shop about a year after I left, and he came home almost daily with stories that would make your hair stand straight up.
We were having a hard time getting qualified drivers, like every company out there, I suppose. What the ownership team and the recruiting manager changed, though, was something I’d never seen before. They began looking strongly at criminal and driving history, and the company owner worked with their insurance company to lower the hiring standards. Within about two months, we went from not hiring any felons at all, to hiring no one with a felony conviction in the previous ten years, to five years, to the point where we’d hire them if they hadn’t been in prison in the past three years and were no longer on parole or probation – or “on paper,” as the recruiting manager said, sounding like she knew what she was talking about. The only felony convictions that made a person ineligible was murder or armed robbery. Rape was never brought into question.
The same thing happened with driving records and the MVR histories. First, it was no moving violations within the past five years, and then that was reduced to no tickets with 15 over in the past year. On the DUI/DWI subject, at first, we wouldn’t touch anyone with any DUI offense in their history. Then, it was changed to at least ten-year-old convictions. And then five. And then three. And then one year.
You can certainly see the pattern here. Continually lowering standards to get more drivers through the door. Then, the problems started increasing. Late loads. Missing loads. A couple of stolen trucks and trailers with loads. As a former MP and long-time manager, I saw it coming – you have a whole group of people who have exhibited a total lack of respect and concern for social and criminal laws and protocols, and now you’re asking them to comply with professional ethical standards. That’s just not happening, and why would anyone in their right mind think it would work? You don’t hire a person who has been convicted of theft as a cashier at your store. Why? Because they’ve proven that they’ve stolen at least once, if not many times, and now you’re giving them another opportunity. Don’t steal, don’t rape, don’t break other laws? Why, because of some written company policy? Not happening.
The same concept goes for hours-of-service compliance, truck inspections, and of course, personal conduct. They’ve already proven that they don’t care about other people and breaking laws – what makes you think they’d change? And you’re going to put them into a $125,000 truck with a $75,000 trailer and $500,000 worth of meat or other frozen food, and you’ll trust them? Now, just think about the element added if we introduce a female into their midst.
That’s where my son comes in. One of his duties was detailing the trucks that would be turned in after someone left the company, or as in several instances, were arrested and went to prison. On a daily basis, he found drugs, alcohol, drug paraphernalia, pornographic magazines, DVDs, sex toys...lots of sex toys...and the most disturbing? A large collection of stuffed animals aimed at young girls. In one truck, he found these after the truck had been towed to the Freymiller yard after being released from police impound. Nearly a hundred stuffed animals. Seems harmless enough, except that a 50-ish year-old man was the driver. His 45-ish year-old wife rode with him. They’d both been arrested in Arkansas after being stopped by the police and a 12-year-old girl was found with them. She had been raped repeatedly. And the driver’s wife was the one who befriended the girl at a restaurant and told her about their stuffed animal collection. They kidnapped the girl. And this wasn’t the first time they’d done it.
Two other male drivers were caught with young girls they’d kidnapped. My son was faced with being interviewed by the FBI and Oklahoma Bureau of Investigations (OBI) just after cleaning out both trucks and describing what he’d found. My son left that job after a year, mainly because of these horrible people and the deeply disturbing things they’d done.
As a final matter with Freymiller, and looking back on my time there, it’s almost easy to understand where this environment spawns from. In the recruiting department, I was the only male there. I’m certainly no saint as a career military guy, and I can curse with the best of them, but I was shocked when the penis size of drivers was discussed between the recruiters, as well as the penis size of “their” men. Between these incredibly uncomfortable discussions, sexual prowess stories from the recruiting manager and lead, and insulting assaults on their “good” drivers, I had to leave.
I attended orientation as a “lease operator” (big mistake) in February 2009. My wife joined me as a team driver after about six weeks. In orientation, I befriended several people, all new students, and kept in touch closely with three. Jason, who is still my friend today, Shannon, a tall young lady from California, and Todd, a kid out of Nevada who quit just after one of the scenarios I’ll tell you about.
But first, there’s Shannon. She was tall, blonde, husky like a volleyball or basketball player, and very quiet. She’d been waiting at the Salt Lake terminal for a female trainer the whole time I was in their “train the trainer” course. Around the time I finished that course, she gave up on waiting and decided to go with a male trainer. A clean-cut man around 50 or 55 named Maurice introduced himself to her while several of us were outside on a break. I pulled him off to the side and gave him the “big brother” rundown, trying to make sure he wasn’t a bad guy or out to score with a young female. He assured me he was very professional, had trained lots of students, both male and female, etc. I feel bad about this situation to this day because I should have insisted that Shannon wait for female trainer.
Two days later, Shannon called me and was frantic. Seems Maurice woke her up for her driving shift and had his penis in his hand, asking her for a blow job. He went on to further tell her that if she “blew him” once a day, he’d make sure she was trained very well, would get out of training early, and get a good report from him to the training section. She refused, of course. She tried driving, but this scenario weighed heavily on her mind. She called her training advisor, and they didn’t believe her. They said they’d never had a complaint on Maurice, and that she must just be racist because she was white, and he was black.
I had no idea of what to do, so I called into the trainer who ran the “train the trainer” course I’d just attended and got the same basic shutdown. “All trainees say shit like that because trucking is tough and they want out of it,” he said.
My wife and I were on the PODS dedicated fleet, hauling PODS moving structures on a flatbed trailer. We were set to deliver in Phoenix on a Monday but had arrived on the Saturday before that around noon. There’s a huge joint-company trailer drop yard in Phoenix across from the main sheriff’s department. We were on our way to drop our trailer there so we could run around for the weekend when I got another frantic call from Shannon. She and her trainer had been in a physical fight, and he had literally thrown her out of the passenger side door of the truck and onto the ground. They were at that drop yard. He then called the police, apparently in a defense/preventive measure. We arrived just as the last of four police cars screamed into the lot. I pulled my truck as closely as I could to the truck, he and Shannon were in. Shannon was sitting in the back of a police car, handcuffed and screaming hysterically. I ran over and was stopped by a female deputy. She told me...get this...Maurice called the police and told them that Shannon was a lot lizard he had picked up at the Flying J and was giving a ride to, and she freaked out on him, so he threw her out. It took me about ten minutes of explaining that Shannon was a CDL driver and was his trainee, that I had just been in a class with her, and also that she’d told me about sexual assault/sexual harassment and how the company blew it off. I insisted enough, I guess, because after I described the driver’s license, Comdata card, and Pilot and T/A cards that would be in Shannon’s wallet, they figured it all out. I have no idea what happened to Maurice – he probably lied his way out of it with the company – but we took Shannon and all her stuff to a restaurant and sat with her until her dad came to get her from California.
As far as Todd goes, he had his trainer steal from his Comdata card. A trainee’s pay goes onto the Comdata card unless they make other arrangements. In Todd’s case, and apparently in the cases of several others, his trainer convinced him (and the other trainees) that they had to leave their Comdata card with them because they might fuel on either the trainer's card or the trainee's card, depending on the time of day. And then they would do an advance on the card and take the money and run. By the time the trainee figured it out, they were out of training and thought it was just kind of some kind of system error...In Todd’s case, he called me, I talked with people in accounting, and we ran the times for the advances taken against Todd’s driving logs – and sure enough, they were all taken when he WASN’T driving. His trainer was.
I was terminal manager at the Oklahoma City terminal for CRST during 2014. One of the guys I trained in our "train the trainer" course was from Texas (like me), and he thought we were best buddies.
He went out with a male trainee, and everything went well. About a week after he finished with that trainee, he met up with a female trainee at our terminal. She had come in from Riverside and I hadn't seen her before - she didn't go through my orientation. Average looking young lady, late 20s.
My male trainer came into my office about 7-10 days later, and she and he had been running a while. He wanted advice, he said. I closed the door, and he unloaded on me about how his female trainee insisted on sleeping nude, on top of the covers, with the curtains open while he drove.
I asked him what he immediately said to her. He told me that he told her to get clothes on, or cover up and close the curtains, and (he said) she indicated that it was ok that he saw her. It was evident that this was the first anyone heard about this...and he hadn't reached out to anyone in training or safety or HR.
He then confided in me that after two shifts of this, and him finding her naked body attractive, they had consensual sex. In fact, they were talking about becoming permanent team partners.
As we know, it's against every rule in the book to do what she did, he did, and they did...so I asked him to let me think on it a minute and I'd come get him out in the yard.
I called our HR director and told her the story. She asked for names and driver numbers. She called me back in about 10 minutes (on a Friday afternoon) and related that we were terminating both of them. They were given 15 minutes to clean out their truck and get off the property.
It was then that the female trainee called HR and told them that I had asked her out. Ironically, I'd never spoken to her before, and had only seen her from a distance. The HR director talked to her, and her story was debunked...my career could have been ruined over vindictiveness and spite.
No idea what happened to them after that, but I used that example in every class that I taught from that day forward.
James E. Lewis
Transportation Safety (Defense/Plaintiff) & Automotive Expert Witness / Investigator / Keynote Speaker / TS-SCI / Author / Columnist / Disabled Veteran