alone in city by Paolo Braiuca Photo: Paolo Braiuca

'Bus and Dump': Drivers expose industry's dirty practice

Drivers share stories of being promised a truck driving job only to be bused to an unfamiliar city, where they are left to fend for themselves.

When 28-year driving veteran Troy Moran received a bus ticket from a major carrier to travel from Wisconsin to Nebraska for orientation and a promised job, he was excited. So were 40 other potential drivers on his bus. When they arrived, however, the carrier only accepted eight of them and the rest were left to fend for themselves. Several of them had no money, no hotel, no credit cards and no way to get home.

Moran had to sleep in a homeless shelter because there were no accommodations available. Some of the others, Moran says, had to beg on the streets for enough money to eat. He doesn’t know how they returned home – if they did.

“I applied for a job online and they said ‘We'd like you to come to orientation for this job on a certain date. We'll send you a bus ticket.’ I got on the Greyhound and went there. I spent about two days in orientation when all of a sudden, they changed their mind. ‘Well, we're sorry we can't use you.’ They made up something and it sounded phony. I thought: ‘Okay, so you’re a little disappointed that you don't have the job. Fine, I guess I've got to go back home,’ and they said, ‘It's up to you to find your own way home.’”

Moran adds: “They came up with some kind of excuse. ‘Oh, we've found something on your record that we didn't like,’ or ‘It goes against our policy.’ You ask, ‘What’s the problem?’ and you don't get an answer out of them.”

Taken alone, this story may seem like the complaint of a single driver, but it’s not. We talked to eight other drivers to whom this scenario, or a variation of it, played out. When we contacted carriers mentioned by the drivers, they either did not return our calls or would not comment on individual cases citing driver privacy.

The eight drivers are only the tip of the iceberg as evidenced by calls received by Dave McMillan several months ago. He is a truck driver who hauls lumber in Northern Ontario and is co-owner, with his wife Catherine, of Smart-Trucking, a website that helps drivers navigate the industry. “A fellow got a hold of us and said this was happening to another guy he was in training with, and he asked me: ‘Can they do this? What should we do? Can you help us raise some money for them?’ They were completely stuck. I never even heard of such a dirty trick before.”

McMillan produced a video about this practice and asked people to contact him if they had been victimized. “All of a sudden I've got guys coming out of the woodwork saying ‘Yeah, that happened to me. That happened to me at this carrier, and this carrier.’ I guess it's quite widespread. I was stunned.”

In the month after the video aired, McMillan had heard from more than 100 drivers who had been promised jobs and been abandoned by carriers in an area often hundreds of miles from their home. He says he only heard from U.S. drivers. “I don't believe I've heard of a case in Canada.” McMillan said that all the drivers he heard from were Over-the-Road. He added that almost all of the companies they mentioned were among the largest U.S. carriers.

Was there a standard story?

“They varied,” McMillan says “It ranged from their skin color, to what sex they are, to whether the carrier has already reached their quota, whether they've found something on the driver while he's in orientation. There's all sorts of different stories. Some drivers didn’t get any explanation at all. Some drivers complained that they [recruiter or company representative] didn’t even talk to them. They just said ‘You're out.’”

He said in one instance, a carrier dismissed a driver over a case of mistaken identity. “This guy had just come out of a driving school, just gotten his license, so he had no offenses. This was the first job he'd ever gotten, and he didn't even get that job. By the time he got there [the terminal city], they rejected him saying he'd gotten ticketed in some other state or something about the truck, and he'd never even driven a truck to that point. The carrier made a mistake and they should have taken care of that guy. It’s just inhuman.”

Says McMillian: “I’ve been driving for over 40 years and I’ve never heard of this until now. I knew they played some dirty tricks on the guys down there [in the U.S.], but this takes the cake. I'm angered by the whole thing, because I can hardly believe that people would treat others this way.”

Casey Bundy’s story also is indicative of this "bus and dump" tactic. He received a job offer from a major carrier who bought him a bus ticket from Idaho Falls to Salt Lake City where he would transfer for another bus to Denver. “I was probably an hour out from Denver and the recruiter calls me and says: ‘There's an issue with your driver's license.’ I tell them that my license is OK and there must be a mistake. I called my DMV, because I saw the time and they were still open, and they said there was absolutely nothing wrong with my CDL. My medical card and everything else was current. I called him back and let him know, and he's says, ‘We still have something wrong with it on our end doing the MVR report.’ I get to Denver and say: ‘Well, do you guys have a hotel or something for me?' They say, ‘No we don't. Since you're not qualified we can't pay for a hotel for you.’ That's basically what happened. I waited two days in a hotel I paid for myself, and then I finally got a ride home. My wife came and picked me up.”

Bundy had received his CDL training at a truck driving school in Idaho. Like the other drivers we spoke with all eventually found employment with other carriers.

Carlton Washington was headquartered in Wisconsin when he got an offer from an oil company in the Dallas area. He received a bus ticket and hit the road. “I arrived, checked into the hotel and I was expecting to start orientation Monday and go out on the road on Friday. At least that's the understanding that they gave me over the telephone. I’m in orientation and day-two comes around and I get the surprise. They said something on the background check or something wasn't approved and essentially, I was just kicked out. It was some type of ambiguous safety violation that nobody else could identify. The only person that I had contact with was conducting the orientation, and I don't know who the other people were that made the decisions.”

Washington was told to leave the classroom. He sat in the lobby area with his duffle bag but he had no place to stay. He began making phone calls to other carriers to which he had applied to online, and one of them sent him a bus ticket along with fifty dollars for expenses. He arrived in Oklahoma City the next day and began driving with the new carrier. The job didn’t last very long, Washington says, “but it got me out of that homeless situation. I realized this is how veterans become homeless; this is how people become homeless.”

In a time when driver recruitment and retainment are so difficult, why would carriers dismiss potential candidates in such a seemingly cavalier and arbitrary way?

One insight comes from Greg Warner, Director of Safety for RCS Trucking & Freight in Bealeton, VA. RCS was not named by any ‘bus and dump’ drivers, but Warner says that a previous company he worked for engaged in such activity.

“The company would bring in 30 people every Monday. And when those 30-people walked in the room at 5 a.m., my job as a driver-trainer was to meet two other trainers and walk through that classroom with the instructor and look at people and say, ‘You're not going to fit the team. You wore shorts; you're not going to fit because you wore tennis shoes.’ So, we're going to dump five people in the first day. At the end of orientation week, this class that had 30 is down to 20.”

He also said that another company he knows about gave a driver three days of orientation then dropped him because they didn’t have a trainer-truck available. They said they would call him back in three weeks but never did. “That was about five months ago, and they still haven’t called him back. He’s now working for us.”

He adds that carriers do potential drivers an injustice by not telling them upfront what’s expected of them. For example, like how to dress for orientation, or their grooming, and then dismiss them because they don’t like their clothes or their hair. He also says that carriers often hire based on their needs and not a driver’s ability, a situation that RCS once did but doesn’t do anymore. “We want a person who has the ability [to drive and represent us] and we will design a route for them.

“We know every driver by their first name. The president of this company and I still go out and drive so we interact with our drivers daily. [Companies should] stop treating their drivers like a number. And pay them and stop deducting pay because they’re one minute late.

“Look at the turnover rate in the industry. I don't blame the drivers; I blame the industry. We have changed as an industry over the last 15 to 25 years but what hasn't changed is the poor way we treat our drivers.”

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