Fired by Western Express for Blindside Backing

The phone rang, and it was my recruiter – she had been calling for weeks, and I finally took a deep breath and accepted the call.

“So what’s keeping you from working for Western Express?” she inquired with uncanny determination.

“Thanks for asking, but I have to organize a 13-mile charity run in DC in mid May, and I need to be home a couple of weeks in advance to plan and organize,” I mentioned, hoping this would do the trick.

“Don’t you have someone you can delegate these responsibilities to, or are you a one-man band,” she wondered.

“Nah, unfortunately – this is my baby, and I’ve been going solo ever since she was just a twinkle in my eye.”

“No worries,” she assured. “Western will buy you a bus ticket to Bethlehem, and we’ll get you trained up and released for home time with plenty to spare,” she reassured, making a huge assumption that things would go off without a hitch.

That sounded encouraging. “Just how much training would I need?” I wondered.

“Well, looking at your DAC report (Drive-A-Check), I see that you have four months of experience with Coastal Transportation  (CT).  So we’ll just require three days of indoctrination and a week of cargo securement flatbed training, both at our Bethlehem yard and then a week on the road with one of our road-hardened trainers.”

This sounded very doable. Even though I had my reservations, I didn’t see any reason not to give it a shot.

“By the way, how come you were only at CT for a second?”

“Well, I got fired for going over 67 mph on a downhill. Does Western have the same restrictions?’

“Nope, we’re not that strict. We give our drivers lots of freedom. Just don’t do a U-turn or else you’ll come home on the next bus.”

I arrived in Easton the very next week and checked into the Day’s Inn, a flea bag motel that left much to be desired. The only bonus was that it was located in scenic Easton with a vibrant downtown offering a scenic view of the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers.

I met my trainer, Trevor, at the home terminal in Nazareth.

“Welcome to my ole piece of shit National,”  he said pejoratively. “And to Western, the best second-chance trucking company that hired an ole felon when no one would dare even take a look.” 

My week with Trevor turned out to be one of the most mentally agonizing experiences since I spent a month “cranking” serving as a food service attendant onboard a U.S. Navy Knox class frigate.

Arriving at the Western Express terminal in Bethlehem after a long day of driving

Trevor reeked of old cheese and bacteria. He never took a shower the entire week, and he probably didn’t brush his teeth daily, the few ones that he still disposed, albeit rotten and decayed.

First thing he did each morning, he combed his thick mass of hair with old-school Brylcreem, gobbled a huge wad of chewing tobacco filled his thermo flask with dark, roasted coffee and he was good to go.

Put bad hygiene aside, he was worshiped by Western like he could blind side alley dock in his sleep. And he could put in the miles and run out his clock each day.

Trevor was a million miler and he won numerous awards for no preventable accidents, though he loved screaming at four wheelers and called every women driver who tested his mettle with the C-word.

Household and commercial waste from New York City leaving Long Island to Pennsylvania

During the seven days we spent on the road together, we were busy – teaming up and hot bunking when we needed naps.  To this day, I don’t remember what was worse – smelling his foul breath when he yelled like a banshee or sleeping next to his sheets that smelled like a dead rat.

Speaking of foul smells, our last load out of New York was at the dump site in West Babylon, Long Island.  For those going over the congested GW Bridge into NYC, the only way out of the Big Apple was to accept a load of New York’s waste.

Most of the trash from the five buroughs are exported to Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina with truckers carrying the load.

After our last load to Bethlehem, we celebrated by going to his favorite local dive bar. But it was actually me that was celebrating-  freedom from the filth, both the hygiene and the language.

The next day, I got in my Subaru and headed home to DC – just in time to organize another fabulous run.

The unique aspect of the EU Embassy Run was that we visited over a dozen embassies while running 13 miles.  While most people had to wait in long lines to get in, we got head of the line privilege.  And the best part we got to partake in the food, drinks and culture from each location.

The run started eight years ago on a whim. I coerced a couple friends and the run has blossomed into a public event with a loyal following.

After the run, I rushed back to Easton in my personal vehicle.  The recruiter was right – I could return home to organize my big event and back to finish up training.

The only thing left was my test drive around town and a couple of backing maneuvers in the yard.

The test went well, but my tester, John, recommended I take a 3-day backing training.

Good News – In fact, I was looking forward to it.  Who wouldn’t welcome more free training — as a newbie, I’m constantly learning and improving.

The next day, the Lead Examiner visited the Days Inn to pick me up along with all my luggage and dropped me off in the Bethlehem terminal to pickup my truck.

“I thought I have backing training,” I asked befuddled.

“Well we decided to waive this training and assign you to your truck immediately,” he replied. “You’re now a bonafide, certified, driver.”

Since this was a three-day Memorial Day weekend, I was instructed to stay in my truck and wait until Tuesday when my Driver Manager would contact me and issue my first load assignment.

After completing the walk through, getting a few things fixed and then signing out the truck, I drove to Nazareth to the Western Express terminal in Nazareth to park the truck.  The truck had been cleaned out, but no amount of baking soda could eliminate the pungent smell of urine. Apparently the previous driver had a K9 co-pilot, one of Western’s perks.  

As instructed by the Lead Examiner, I was to stay and watch my truck through the three-day weekend. 

Finally on Tuesday, I received a dispatch from Tom, my Driver Manager to contact him. I then informed him that my CPAP machine was ready to be picked up at the VA in  DC at which point he allowed me to return home in my personal vehicle. He also instructed me to pick up an abandoned Western Express tractor in Baltimore, MD and drive it back to Bethlehem.

After I picked up my CPAP and making preparations to drive to Baltimore to pickup the abandoned Western Express tractor, I received a call from Melinda not to pickup the truck and to catch a Greyhound back to Eason PA ASAP.

When I arrived in Bethlehem, PA,  Melinda informed me that I would need to take a three-day backing class, despite the fact that I had already been assigned a truck for a whole week. A backing class should be exactly what the name implies — a one-to-three day class to refine backing skills.

While I waited for my backing class, I continued to keep my possessions in my assigned truck and spent time in the truck while waiting for my trainer who was always busy with multiple assignments.

I was looking forward to taking a two-day backing class because I wanted to improve my backing skills.  Backing is a skill where every driver, young or old, always needs to improve and refine.  My trainer would not have released me from the week of on-the-road training if he wasn’t satisfied by my skills. 

The backing class should not be used as a means to discriminately eliminate trainees since this is what the 3-day indoctrination, the 3-day in-house flatbed training and the 1-4 weeks of on-the-road training time with a qualified truck driver is intended to do.

On Monday, Jose was so busy that he could only give me training for 1 ½ hours after I waited all day.  I waited in my truck at the Bethlehem terminal all day for Jose who was busy doing other tasks. Finally, I ran into Eric, the Safety Officer at the terminal. I explained to him my situation and that I was wasting time just waiting around for Jose. The Safety Officer empathized with me and agreed to test me on my backing.

“Just do a couple of backing maneuvers for me with your truck, and I’ll sign you off in no time,” he promised.

The first two backing maneuvers were perfect. I conducted two difficult alley dock backing maneuvers in two different locations in a very busy terminal satisfactorily, within the alloted time and with no incidents.

At which point I felt I had satisfactorily demonstrated my backing skills to the Safety Officer. He then surprised me by directing me to do a blind-side alley dock maneuver.

Blind Side alley dock is a maneuver that Western Express doesn’t teach. From my indoctrination to my on-the-road training, all my trainers instructed me never to attempt it since its challenging, risky and thus should be avoided. As instructed, I never once attempted the blind-side alley dock backing maneuver.

Additionally, both the Lead Examiner as well as my Backing Class Instructor told me that they don’t test trainees on blind side backing.

That’s why I was shocked when the Safety Officer asked me to attempt it. Perhaps he wanted me to attempt blind-side as extra credit since I already satisfactorily completed two sight-side alley docks.

The role of the Tester is to also serve as the spotter and to prevent the trainee from hitting anything.  As the name implies with blind-side, the driver cannot see where he’s backing into and must rely on both convex mirrors.

That’s why I was shocked when the edge of my trailer nicked the side of the truck behind me.  It was the job of the Safety Officer as the tester and spotter to ensure this would not happen.

The Safety Officer made it appear like it was my responsibility when clearly it was his, and he had failed in his role.

Shortly after this incident, the Safety Officer informed me that I would be released from training.  He told me to call the Western Express claims line to report the incident and asked me to turn in the keys to my truck.

Not only did I have to take all my shit from the truck that I just spent time cleaning (second one, mind you), but I had to find a way home.  I had 4 duffel bags of clothing and gear, which I wouldn’t be able to easily take onto the bus.

I was astounded since I was asked to do a maneuver that I was not trained to do, and no one else was tested on this. Federal law requires that everyone should be treated equally especially with testing.  I would be reporting this incident to the EEOC.

This was not the first time I was terminated by a trucking company.  Coastal Transportation fired me the year before for over-speeding – going more than 67 mph on a downhill.

I have no problem with them firing me but they added insult to injury by adding negative comments on my DAC report.
 “Driver Unsafe – No rehire” – those famous last words have kept me from getting another job.
In actuality, they didn’t have to say anything because it’s a company policy — not DOT’s.  Frankly, if I couldn’t work for them, they didn’t want me to work  for the competition.
Its questionable whether going over 67 is unsafe because normally after a downhill there’s an uphill and you need the momentum so that you don’t slow traffic behind you
Also not all trucks are the same. Forty percent of Coastal’s trucks are the newer MACs that don’t overspeed as easily. The rest of us have the old Internationals that do.
So if the company is going to fire us for over speeds, then they need to make sure that everyone gets the same type of trucks.
At any rate,  welcome to trucking.  Firing & quitting are two common practices. No wonder, companies have a hard time keeping driver’s seats filled.

So as soon as I left Easton, I stopped at the state capital and filed a complaint with the EEOC – Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The office was responsive and readily took my report – they would get back to me in a few months.  Meanwhile I had to look for another job