Trucking Latinas talk about their jobs and the industry
As Covid lockdowns eased, employment among Latinas is recovering faster than among Hispanic men, said Monica García-Pérez, professor of economics at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, specializing in labor economics.
So far, trucking hasn’t attracted Latinas nationwide, but there could be regional increases in areas with concentrations of warehouses and distribution centers, García-Pérez said.
Those who re-enter the workforce appear to be in jobs in more male-dominated fields, such as packaging and shipping, she said.
Antoinette McIntosh, 42, was working as a financial advisor at an East Coast bank when the market collapsed in 2008. Her job and six-figure salary disappeared overnight.
A good friend, Robert Montgomery, who would later become her fiancé, told her to take advantage of his love of driving and join him in his business as a truck driver.
The company they worked for paid for his transportation to Salt Lake City and his training in exchange for the couple working for the company for a year.
“I’ve been in it ever since,” said McIntosh, who is black and Puerto Rican and lives in the Cleveland, Mississippi area. She has been a truck driver for 15 years.
McIntosh’s father had also been a truck driver, and her parents “did everything they could to stop me from getting into a truck,” she said. Trying to make their wishes come true, she went to college, majoring in psychology and social work, and “made everyone happy.”
McIntosh now earns more than she did in her banking job, she said.
“What a lot of people don’t tell you is that it pays you better than a white collar job at a lot of companies, so it’s not so much of a stigma anymore,” McIntosh said.
The evolution of the pandemic
Rosio Villagrana, 35, obtained his Class A truck driver’s license on July 30. The company that hired her told her she had not had a truck driver for several years, she said.
She had worked and managed a pawnshop for about a decade. But the work of his tractor-trailer driver friends had long intrigued him.
With free time and feeling restless confined to work and home at the start of the pandemic, Villagrana decided to give truck driving a try.
“Why not?” she remembers saying. “I am so for the empowerment of women. I feel like we are capable of what we do and more, especially in this male dominated industry.
Ultimately, his goal is to be owner-operator and someday own his own fleet of trucks.
Tracy Barajas, 27, of Corona, Calif., Has been driving trucks for three years. She had worked in online fashion stores and as a dispatcher for a plumbing company.
Her boyfriend, Oscar Hernandez, and her cousins, who were truck drivers, inspired her to take the leap into trucking, she said.
Barajas said she lived paycheck to paycheck before embarking on trucking. She had briefly attended community college with the intention of becoming a psychologist.
In trucking, she and Hernandez, who drive as a team and record their journeys online, have individually saved tens of thousands of dollars and she earns four times her previous income, she said.
“I never would have thought in my head that I would be able to do it or be in the driving of trucks,” said Barajas.
Getting through sexism, danger and scams
Despite all the positive testimonials, trucking can be a dangerous profession and can affect marriages and families. Not everyone experiences a financial windfall.
McIntosh said her marriage ended because of trucking. Her partner at the time she started didn’t want her to drive trucks.
She also lost money when she rented a truck from her employer. Maintenance, gasoline, inspection and registration, insurance and other expenses were deducted from his paycheck, McIntosh said. She lagged behind even when she increased her workload.
McIntosh ended up joining a class action lawsuit against the company, which was settled with her and other drivers over the rental agreement.
McIntosh used to travel with her fiancé, Montgomery. On a trip to Wisconsin in June, he suffered a massive heart attack while they were in the cab of their truck. He died in her arms, she said.
She continues to drive, in part, to keep her promise to help her autistic brother, she said.
Barajas was hit by a drunk driver while driving a truck in Colorado in February 2020.
Shortly after the accident, her company cut her and her boyfriend’s wages by 10 cents and ended their benefits, including their health care plan and 401 (k) retirement benefits.
Barajas and her boyfriend switched to driving for FedEx in May 2020 and are making a good living again.
Wood, of Real Women in Trucking, said as more Latinas start driving trucks, caution is in order.
Women are often paired with unfamiliar male drivers for training, and this is where “a lot of women fall through the cracks,” she said. Some are raped or harassed and then suffered retaliation when reporting the incidents, she said.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has been studying harassment and assault against minority women and truckers.
None of the Latinas interviewed said they had experienced physical sexual harassment or assault.
Barajas said she received hateful and sexist comments on her YouTube page because she was a woman driving a truck. But the comments that stand out for her come from women who say she inspires them, she said.
Student drivers can also be exploited because they work for low wages while in training, Wood said. She cautions women not to participate in company-sponsored training, although women interviewed for this article said they had good experiences.
The American Trucking Association, the trade and lobbying group of major employers in trucking, reported that the annualized truck driver turnover rate last year was 90%, one point lower than in 2019. For small fleets, it was 69%, compared to 72%. Much of the turnover occurs in the first year of truckers, said Wood.