Not long after Claudia Lopez began her career in trucking, a male colleague began to touch her back and legs without her consent, and repeatedly told her that he wanted to “marry her after he’s back from 28 days” of training. Lopez later said that the man did this in front of others. She also saw him tell another female driver that her “shirt was too long,” meaning it covered her rear end. Lopez said that she told a human resources representative at the company that employed both of them, and nothing happened.
Her account is one of many tales of sexual harassment experienced by women in trucking. More than 300 women, including Lopez, say that they were sexually harassed on the job at Cedar Rapids Steel Transport, known today as CRST.
Rain or shine, CRST female truckers would deliver for mammoth companies like FedEx, Boeing, and Amazon. In the process, the drivers for the Cedar Rapids, Iowa–based company said that they were sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, and in some cases sidelined or forced out of the job for speaking up, according to court documents. The truckers were allegedly catcalled. They said that in some cases, they were even raped.
For the first time, court documents tied to a class action lawsuit against CRST allege that many more companies than previously known, including Fortune 500 brands that market to women, used the trucking firm as a shipper. (Some of the legal documents have been unsealed by a joint request through the nonprofits Public Justice and Type Investigations.) They include: Limited Brands, Gap, UPS, Nordstrom, Daimler, Conagra, Safeway, Coca-Cola, Kohl’s, DuPont, Hobby Lobby, Quaker, Walmart, Macy’s, JCPenney, Duraflame, Sam’s Club, Costco, Sanyo, AT&T, Anheuser-Busch, Union Pacific, and Mitsubishi, among others.
Spokespersons for UPS, Daimler, JCPenny, and Costco declined to comment. Spokespersons for the other companies did not respond to requests for comment.
In and out of court, CRST has vigorously denied claims in the class action lawsuit, and spokespersons for the company say it continues to provide job opportunities. The company has said in court filings that its sexual-harassment policies and reporting practices are updated on an ongoing basis, that drivers couldn’t show that they were removed from trucks for complaining about harassment, and that “the record lacks any evidence of pretext.”
Yet critics argue that by using CRST, large companies are effectively underwriting the abuse of women workers. While that largely goes unseen by the public, shipping firms like CRST are conduits of the economy—and, increasingly, the goods we buy online.
“These are brands that are aimed at women,” said Desiree Wood, the founder of Real Women in Trucking, a nonprofit organization founded in 2010 that represents many female drivers. “Why do you have to wait until there’s something like an R. Kelly documentary to come out? Be proactive. They talk about their supply chain, human trafficking, fair trade, but do they even know what’s going on in their domestic supply chain?”
And oh yes do I have thoughts about supply chains and voluntary corporate codes of conduct.
“The supply-chain codes of conduct on company websites are totally bogus,” said Erik Loomis, an associate professor of history at the University of Rhode Island. “It’s not backed up by a legal consequence. They’re just a bunch of words to make it sound like employers care, but in reality, the Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh in 2013 and the conditions haven’t improved.”
One thing trucker activists may have going for their cause, Loomis said, is geography. “It’s easier to get public support when it’s at home.” As he sees it, one aim of globalization is to separate points of consumption from the points of production.
That distance can exacerbate an already existing disconnect between consumers and the people who make their goods or ship them, Loomis said, particularly with blue-collar trades like trucking. Still, it’s “entirely possible” that companies can face pressure, he said, pointing to examples like the United Farm Workers grape boycott or Justice for Janitors. “But in the U.S., for female truckers, they would have to build a campaign that’s locally based, community-based, and would build on the pre-existing feminist movement,” Loomis concluded.
I am just happy to get the term “totally bogus” in print for a serious political article.