HERstory: Bitzy Gomez and the Coalition of Women Truck Drivers
***This article was originally published and authored by Desiree Wood President of the REAL Women in Trucking organization in February 2014 as part of a series aimed to re-establish an accurate historical timeline of women in trucking***
Though women were encouraged to take up male-dominated jobs during the 1940’s WWII war efforts, after the war, women were expected to get back in the kitchen.
During the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s, the sexual revolution began to heat up equality in the workplace issues.
The Coalition of Women Truck Drivers was a 150-member group that organized to fight hiring discrimination and sexual harassment at trucking companies. Their work paved the way to modern day recruitment campaigns that encourage women to apply for truck driving jobs. Adriesue “Bitzy” Gomez was a founding member of the coalition, she was tough, outspoken and aggressive in her activism.
While we know today that women make excellent and conscientious professional commercial drivers, it was the coalition of women truck drivers who organized themselves in the late 1970’s to bring down companies through EEOC discrimination charges one by one which in turn created hiring mandates.
I personally began trying to track Bitzy down beginning in 2009 when I first learned about her but was unable to reach her until 2013 when I received a letter from her brother that she was still alive and in a nursing home. I was able to speak to her at length on several occasions and in one phone conversation we had before she passed away, she told me that back then when a company would not hire women as truck drivers the coalition members worked together to obtain an application for the company, make carbon copies and apply about every two weeks to document a pattern at which time they would then file a formal complaint. They were successful in many of these cases and this effectively lowered barriers to employment and created the EEO requirements many women in the trucking industry may not realize paved the way for them.
The “Sleeper Test” though was the foremost issue the coalition attempted to resolve but as we know, it remains a serious issue in modern day truck driver training fleets that use team driving in student fleet operations. It is gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace. Bitzy said that every person who is told they must team drive with a stranger must adopt to their vernacular the following “It is unreasonable to require a woman to team truck drive with a man as a requirement for employment”.
Bitzy was well aware of the WIT association before she passed away and was vehemently opposed to their misrepresentation that they are advocates for women truck drivers. She expressed to me in no uncertain terms that they did not represent her nor anything she or the coalition stood for. She understood that WIT protected bad trucking companies and utilized the image of women truck drivers only for marketing imagery. Bitzy supported the work of REAL Women in Trucking and gave us permission to use her likeness and the name of the coalition.
The Coalition of women truck drivers is also responsible for pushing to get women's restroom facilities at truck stops and they walked picket lines in support of other driver causes. They ceased to exist after deregulation.
According to a friend of Bitzy, Feminist writer Susie Bright, deregulation caused many companies that were the worst offenders to go belly up but that didn’t make predators vanish, they just got jobs at other trucking companies and the toxic culture flourished. When the coalition disbanded it had international membership and several state chapters. Bitzy was featured in TIME magazine and Women's World Magazine, the PDF's to these magazines are available here on our website. I took great pains to acquire copies to make available again so that Bitzy and the work of the coalition will not be erased from history again.
April 1976 TIME Magazine - The Sexes - Women Truckers
May 1977 Womens World - Page 1
May 1977 Women's World - Page 2
For Bitzy, trucking was her love, it afforded her a lifestyle she couldn’t otherwise have as a single mother. She was once quoted as saying, “A good truck is what a man should be, big and strong, and takes you where you want to go. When a woman gets into a semi, it makes up for all the crap women take in our society."
Her family told me that one of her favorite places to drive was up in Montana and recalled the name of her favorite truck stop up that way. We included her image in our coloring book to commemorate her driving there.
Unfortunately, as an over the road truck driver, finding quality childcare was as difficult then as it is today. One night, Bitzy’s babysitter’s home was raided while she was on the road. Her three daughters were placed into foster care, it took 13 years to get them back. When they were finally returned, they had been abused both emotionally and sexually, there was deep resentment.
The State of California had deemed her job as a truck driver unfit for a woman. According to Bitzy’s Daughter Rita Dolores, it was not until her mother could afford representation from a young lawyer named Gloria Allred that they were able to live with their mother again. The incredible account of dealing with the court system was documented in this old copy of The Socialist underground newspaper that I was able to obtain.
(You Can Download a PDF by clicking the picture, her story is on page 15, WARNING: This PDF has GRAPHIC CONTENT FROM THE TIME PERIOD)
In her later years, Bitzy became a local truck driver in southern California and was a teamster. She died in April 2015 in Santa Ana, California while attempting to cross a busy street as a pedestrian.
REAL Women in Trucking recognized Bitzy with a posthumous Queen of the Road award in 2017 as she was the inspiration for the creation of this event. Her Daughter Dolores accepted the award in person and remains a great friend to the REAL Women in Trucking organization to this day. The video below is the daughter of Adriesue "Bitzy" Gomez accepting the award. She told me that when she went through her mother's final papers there was a letter that she saved that I had written to her years before and she had kept it. I was deeply touched and am honored to continue fighting for what she and the coalition were unable to finish. I want our members and supporters to fully understand the sacrifices that have been made to do this important work. We must continue for all those who come after us. We must show gratitude for Bitzy and other women of trucking history who stuck their neck out to improve this industry for all. ~ Desiree Wood