Topic: Company sponsored truck driver training TRAP's.
On April 19, 2023, the REAL Women in Trucking sent a letter in support of the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Proposed Rule in support of rulemaking that would, among other things, provide that it is an unfair method of competition for an employer to enter into or attempt to enter into a non-compete clause with a worker; to maintain with a worker a non-compete clause; or, under certain circumstances, to represent to a worker that the worker is subject to a non-compete clause. Non-Compete Clause Rule, 88 Fed. Reg. 3482 (Jan. 19, 2023) (to be codified at 16 C.F.R. pt. 910). RWIT supports this rulemaking by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), which should eliminate the use of non-compete clauses and limit other employment contract provisions that act as de facto non-compete clauses in the trucking industry. (You can download and read our entire letter HERE)
Below is an excerpt from the report called "Trapped at Work" published by Student Borrowers Protection Center which identifies several industries including trucking (page 16) where de facto non-compete clauses wrapped into on-the-job training contracts place workers in debt and limit their mobility. (You can download the entire report HERE)
Transportation To retain employees, trucking companies and their on-site training programs have turned to TRAPs. The trucking industry has notoriously harsh working conditions and low wages, resulting in substantial worker retention problems. Scholars explain that decades of deregulation stemming back to the 1980s have caused a deterioration in working conditions for truckers, leading to high turnover rates among those working in this field. According to a New York Times guest essay, truck drivers experienced an annualized turnover rate of 91 percent in 2019. The use of TRAPs has been shown to diminish worker exit from employment among firms that utilize these contract terms.
For example, in 2017, Mitchell Hoffman and Stephen V. Burks conducted a single- firm study that found that a trucking company’s use of two types of TRAPs, with twelve-month and eighteen- month post-training employment requirements, led to a 15 percent reduction in employees quitting and “significantly increase[d] firm profits from training.
The use of TRAPs has been recently documented among many of the largest trucking companies, including Swift Transportation School (an on-site training program for Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings Inc.), Schneider Trucking School (a training program for Schneider National), Prime Trucking School (a training program for Prime, Inc.), and Contract Freighters.
Many of these companies lure potential truck drivers into their training programs with the promise of a “free” or “paid” training, and a high paying job after completing the program. Instead, drivers often learn that these fast-track training programs either bind them to companies for a period that can last anywhere between 10 months and two years or cost them thousands of dollars with sky-high interest rates.
CRST The Transportation Solution, Inc. (“CRST”), a privately-owned transportation company, provides a prominent example of this practice. CRST heavily advertised its trucking school in 2014, promising a steady trucking career and a large signing bonus with ads stating, “No experience? No problem! Get paid to train. But these marketing materials masked a dark reality of sham training and an alarming work environment. One former CRST international trainee, Jim Simpson, described the training as having “brutal” working conditions. Further, Mr. Simpson stated in an interview that “[c]alling the program a ‘training’ might have even been a stretch.
As he put it, “[t]hey didn’t really prep you for the [commercial driver’s license] test. There was no real training in backing up. One guy got hypothermia......... I felt like after eight months with them I’d go running away screaming.
They should call it Crash and Roll Stunt Team. After only one month, Simpson’s instructor quit, and he decided to move on to another job. Immediately after leaving, he began receiving calls from debt collection agencies trying to collect more than $6,000 on behalf of CRST. Another former trainee, David Boyd, shared his experience of CRST’s training with Time Magazine earlier this year. Boyd’s descriptions of co-driver training reiterated the gravity of the co-driving business model—and how friction between co-drivers during the training could easily boil over to create severely dangerous working conditions. Boyd recalled being accused by a former co-driver of purposely hitting bumps while he tried to sleep, resulting in the driver wanting to physically fight him.
Another constantly smoked, which Boyd struggled with as a non-smoker. But there was one co-driver he connected with during his training at CRST, Aristedes Garcia. Boyd had completed CRST’s training program and successfully received his commercial driver’s license without ever having driven on an interstate—except for his test—and without knowing how to back up the truck. He credited Garcia for teaching him how to do both. Tragically, the very same driver, Aristedes Garcia, later became a devastating example of the true level of danger CRST drivers are being subjected to while on the job. In March of 2022, Garcia was found murdered by another CRST co-driver while on the road.
Boyd contemplated quitting CRST while still a trainee, particularly when a co-driver threatened him, but doing so would have resulted in him owing CRST $5,000 due to his TRAP with the company. After completing his 10-month training period and being released from the TRAP, Boyd found a job with another company and left. At the same time, it appears CRST is also using TRAPs as a means of preventing women from speaking out when sexual harassment and assault occurs during the CRST training program. (Note: The remainder of this paragraph contains a brief account of a sexual assault and its aftermath.) One woman who was a student trainee at CRST reported being raped by her trainer at the beginning of her 10-month training program. When she reported the incident to the company, she was told “without corroborating evidence like a video, the company could not do anything". Her complaint went ignored. After being effectively terminated by CRST following the event, she received a bill for $9,000 due to her TRAP. When she later sued the company for multiple causes, the company settled for $5 million. The court case revealed a much wider problem. In a deposition for the case, Brooke Willey, vice president of human resources, stated that in 2018 and 2019, there were 150 to 200 sexual harassment claims involving CRST drivers. For many of these drivers, speaking out about sexual harassment and assault can cost them their job because the harassment and assault came from their co-driver who was tasked with training and reviewing them. When former CRST drivers attempted to bring a class action lawsuit against the company in 2015 alleging systemic gender discrimination, including retaliation for complaining about harassment in the workplace, the lead attorney stated: “One of the most common complaints is from women trainees, who make up the overwhelming majority of the class, who were made to understand that their passage—that is being able to move on to be drivers and receive actual pay—was dependent on providing sexual favors.”
The prospect of losing employment can be enough to prevent victims of harassment and assault from speaking out. The looming threat of financial instability created by the company enforcing a TRAP made speaking out even more dangerous. These stories are far from the only examples of former CRST trainees staying at the company against their will due to CRST’s enforcement of TRAPs. Between January 2016 and July 2020, CRST faced three class action lawsuits. The company was found to have violated Iowa’s state usury laws by charging eighteen percent interest rates on the TRAPs it imposed on the drivers, and to have violated state and federal wage laws.
Ultimately, it was discovered that while CRST charged drivers $6,500 for the training, CRST had paid the truck driving schools only $1,400 to $2,500 per driver. Court documents from these cases also found that even with TRAPs in place, only 20 percent of the 25,796 drivers who started training with CRST between November 2013 to March 2017 finished their team driving training. In spite of all this, the Biden Administration and the U.S. Department of Labor announced a partnership with CRST as part of their expanded Registered Apprenticeship program to ensure “high-quality training for new drivers and [to] help employers develop and retain a skilled and safe workforce.
While the trucking industry experiences incredibly high rates of turnover, most long-haul drivers are not leaving the industry, but rather are leaving their company. To attract and retain drivers, fleets and trucking companies can either increase pay or engage in a race to the bottom by using predatory conduct to undermine worker bargaining power and keep them trapped in their jobs. As is made clear by the case of CRST, many have chosen to use TRAPs to prevent their workforce from seeking better opportunities and safer working conditions elsewhere in the industry.
From our letter to the FTC, we wrote that in RWIT’s experience, major trucking companies like Prime, Inc. and C.R. England recruit student trainees from vulnerable populations, such as people experiencing homelessness or living in temporary shelters for domestic violence survivors, who are more likely to accept these agreements because of their urgent need for employment. Additionally, trucking recruits are generally not given the opportunity to read their employment contracts closely, to ask questions, or even to consult with an attorney. Often, recruits are rushed into signing documents and are not provided with copies to keep for their own records. (You can download and read our entire letter HERE)