Fed up with the way they've been treated, some drivers are standing up and demanding to be seen, heard and treated with respect.

By Clarissa Kell-Holland
staff writer

In late October, tornado sirens and 81-mph winds prompted some truckers to leave their trucks and try to seek shelter at the Exel warehouse in Cincinnati, OH, where they were parked.

Among those caught in the storm was OOIDA Member Duane Soderstrom of Bloomington, WI. He was stopped by security guards before he could even open the door at the warehouse owned by the J.M. Smucker Co., in Orrville, OH.

Soderstrom, a 25-year trucker, told Land Line that the security guards instructed him to go back to his truck, wait out the storm, and that the guards would come get him after it was over.

Both Exel and Smucker’s apologized for their treatment of Soderstrom and the other drivers once the drivers and others brought the situation to their attention. Company officials have also promised to do better the next time there is severe weather at one of their facilities.

Maribeth Baderstscher, vice president of communications for Smucker’s, told Land Line that “truck drivers are a valued part of our distribution team, and we need to ensure their safety at our facilities at all times.”

Exel operates more than 380 sites in the United States. Company officials planned to personally apologize to the affected drivers who were not included in the emergency procedures implemented after tornado sirens were activated, according to Lynn Anderson, vice president of communications.

Anderson told Land Line that the site’s emergency procedures have been updated to “ensure that all those on site premises receive emergency procedure information.”

She added there was a miscommunication between the security company and Exel management, who wasn’t aware that the drivers were outside.

The “miscommunication” could have proved deadly for drivers who were left to fend for themselves as tornado sirens blasted.

While many drivers say they were outraged by this inhumane treatment of fellow truckers, they also admitted that they weren’t surprised by the lack of respect these drivers received, based on their own personal experiences at other shippers and receivers.

When you gotta go
The plight of OOIDA Member Erwin Page, who was asked to leave a food packaging facility after inquiring about the company’s “no restroom policy,” was featured in the November issue of Land Line.

Page of Owen, WI, arrived around 4 a.m. one day in late September at Ring’s facility and backed into the dock and went to bed for a few hours. Around 8:30 a.m., he went inside and asked to use the bathroom. While he eventually was allowed to use the bathroom, he was then asked to leave without his load.

However, things have turned around for drivers needing to use the facilities at Ring Container Technologies following a meeting Page had with Ring executives, including David Hollis, vice president of purchasing and transportation, about revising their flawed policy. 

Page said his answer to the problem was simple: Drivers just need access to bathrooms at the facilities.

Page said that Hollis told him at the meeting that drivers will now have access to bathroom facilities at all of their sites.

“He (David Hollis) said to give them 30 days to get the word out to all of their locations, but that they were going to allow us inside if we ask to use the bathroom,” Page said.

Joe Rajkovacz, director of regulatory affairs for OOIDA, said he gives kudos to Ring Container for doing the right thing by drivers.

“They could have easily buried their head in the sand as so many other shippers and receivers are doing on this issue,” Rajkovacz said. “Instead, Ring acknowledged the policy was bad and is working to correct the problem at all its plants.”

No facilities for drivers
A few months ago, Pete and Lynn Wylie, both OOIDA life members, who drive team, were southbound on Interstate 5 in their home state of Washington, when Pete suddenly needed a restroom and made the fateful decision to stop at a weigh station near mile marker 44.

Lynn Wylie told Land Line that their options were pretty limited because they were hauling a hazmat load and couldn’t park their rig “just anywhere.” She said, once stopped, Pete walked in to the office and asked to use the restroom. The officer with the Washington State Patrol told him they don’t supply bathrooms for drivers and asked him to leave.

Lynn said her husband, who previously had undergone surgery for prostate cancer, then asked if there was a portable facility on the premises for drivers to use, but again was told no. She said his medical condition wouldn’t allow him to wait another 30-plus minutes to find another out-of-the-way place with restroom facilities to park their hazmat load.

Instead, Pete decided to relieve himself in a ditch behind his trailer. He said the ditch already had fuel, oil and other contaminants that had collected from trucks parking there. As he was going, he was interrupted by the same WSP officer, who cited him with a $1,025 ticket for urinating in public.

“I am sure the officer could see my husband’s discomfort, but since he wasn’t required to provide a bathroom, he didn’t,” Lynn Wylie said. “What happened to human beings treating each other right?”

While parked at the scale, the Wylies noticed two other straight trucks also there. Pete Wylie said the officer told him they had been put out of service. They, too, were denied access to the restroom facilities while stuck at the scales.

Instead of paying the $1,025, the Wylies decided to fight the “piss ticket” and took their case to court. Pete Wylie said his hope was that he could get the fine amount reduced, but instead the judge sided with him after he provided him with the photos of the ditch and the explanation of why he was forced to do what he did. The judge dismissed the ticket.

After the incident, in addition to contacting the state patrol, the Wylies also contacted the Washington State Department of Transportation about the lack of restrooms at the scale. A representative from WSDOT stated they have an agreement with the state patrol, which is supposed to maintain the station and provide “toilet facilities.”

William Balcom, a commercial vehicle enforcement officer for the WSP, told Land Line that he admits that the state of Washington ranks pretty low as far as the services they provide for truck drivers, but that they are working to address the issue.

“When there is a rest area nearby, sometimes a Sani-Kan is not provided at the scale site,” he said.

For Pete Wylie, there was a rest area within a few miles, but it would have taken them too long to get to there.

Balcom said the state’s worsening economic situation has played a role in why Sani-Kans are not provided at some scale sites – the cost ranges from $125 to $300 every two weeks to maintain – but he said drivers must also be accountable for respecting the facilities they do provide.

“From a law enforcing side, you need to start policing yourselves, folks,” Balcom said. “I’ve had officers inspecting vehicles and the guy starts urinating and they get splashed with the urine. I’ve had officers start doing inspections on trucks and step in feces that’s been left on the pavement.”

He said going forward the state is looking to buy some properties where drivers can get their needed rest and also have some form of bathroom facilities available for them.

Lynn Wylie said that those who work with truckers daily might want to revisit the “Golden Rule” that many children are taught at an early age.

“Treat others as you would wish to be treated. Is that so hard?” she said. LL