The Killing of a CRST Trucker Highlights Problems in the Industry
The body of a truck driver was discovered by Indiana cleaning crews on I-65. He was allegedly killed by his co-driver. He was employed by CRST in Iowa, a national trucking company that has a history with labor disputes, according to the Indiana State Police.
Aristedes Garcia (63) was headed for Cedar Rapids. Iowa is the base for CRST. He had a driver, Miguel Ibarguren. After his family reported him missing police initiated a multi-state investigation into the homicide and ended with Ibarguren being arrested in Texas.
Garcia’s death, after driving for CRST almost a decade, highlights the terrible conditions that freight drivers across America face every day. Recently, the trucking industry is plagued by high worker turnover and worker shortages. This alleged murder happens as the Biden administration seeks to expand trucking in order to reduce supply-chain problems. The White House announced in December a plan for apprenticeships that would allow more young drivers to be trained, especially those between 18 and 20 years. CRST was among the six companies the White House said would create registered apprenticeships under its Apprenticeship Accelerator program.
Continue reading: The Truck Driver Shortage Doesn’t Exist. Driving conditions are worse when there is one.
Although it isn’t known whether Garcia or Ibarguren were involved in this program, CRST has a long history of being one of the most difficult places to become a truck driver. Like many other long distance freight haulers, it offers to pay for drivers’ commercial license training if they commit to working for CRST for 10 months. The new driver is partnered up with a slightly older driver to transport freight throughout the country. Each sleeps in the berth and the other drives. The practice of team driving is known as group driving and allows companies to transport freight faster and cheaper than a single driver, who might have to stop and go to sleep.
However, having strangers in a small car and a sleeping area can cause issues. New drivers don’t get much sleep because it can be difficult to sleep while the truck is moving over bumpy roads. Tensions arise between team drivers because there is often a trainer and a student who needs the trainer’s approval to move on to the next stage of training. Brooke Willey (CRST vice president for human resources), stated that there was 150-200 sexual harassment cases against CRST driver in 2018 and 2019. According to Brooke Willey, vice president of human resources at CRST, a 2020 deposition revealed that one woman claimed she was raped and that the trainer told her that there wasn’t any corroborating evidence, such as a video. According to her, CRST charged $9,000 for training. The case was finally settled at $5 million.
Aristedes Garcia was an easygoing person who didn’t get into conflicts easily, says David Boyd, a truck driver who trained under Garcia in December of 2019. Boyd said that CRST can make training difficult. Boyd also says one of his co-drivers made accusations about Boyd for driving on a rough road. Boyd claimed Boyd was trying to escape and get into a fight. Boyd was a non-smoker and another smoked constantly. But Garcia “was easygoing—I don’t think we argued or anything,” Boyd says.
Boyd had gotten his commercial driver’s license without ever having driven on an interstate—except for his test—and without really knowing how to back up. Garcia showed Boyd how to do them both. They spent Christmas 2019 together on the road and reached 46 states. Garcia trained Boyd for about a month, after which time Garcia was paired with different co-drivers who weren’t specifically teachers.
Continue reading: There’s a Problem With How We Train Truckers
Boyd claims Garcia has often talked to Boyd about quitting CRST. Boyd also thought about quitting after another codriver threatened him. But, Boyd claims that he would have paid $5,000 to the company to cover the training costs. A lawsuit revealed that 20% of 25,796 drivers who began training with CRST in November 2013 and March 2017 completed their group driving training. This would have allowed them to drive freight on their own. Boyd completed the training for 10 months and found work with another company. He now drives alone.
The alleged murder occurred amid a number of legal actions against CRST. Some of these have been resolved while others are continuing. It is alleged that the company paid drivers less than the minimum wage and looked the other way as rapes and sexual assaults occurred.
The CRST has not responded to our request for comment.
According to the 2020 deposition from one of Weatherford’s cases, a CRST human resources employee had recommended that the company put cameras on the inside of CRST trucks. But “cameras in trucks present an interesting dilemma from a privacy perspective,” Willey, the vice president of human resources, said at the time.
The White House believes that apprentices will improve the conditions for truck training. CRST has developed an apprenticeship program that meets the legal requirements. According to an official from administration, it was approved.
But the death of Garcia has prompted more calls from industry advocates to hold companies accountable for incidents that happen while they’re training drivers—and making money.
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“It’s time consumers and retailers know who they are supporting in the domestic supply chain,” says Desiree Wood, the founder and president of REAL Women in Trucking, which advocates for better standards for drivers. Many shipping companies and retailers use CRST for freight delivery.
“CRST should have their training program suspended until there is a thorough investigation of the problems in their business model of team driving during training,” she says.
CRST is the largest carrier that employs new drivers. Companies that don’t have insurance can often struggle to find someone to cover new drivers who are a greater risk for the business.
Even without apprenticeships, CRST or many other trucking businesses receive funding from government. Truck driving school tuition costs are transferred from the student to the employer by workforce training grants. After they begin training, many students drop out of school due to the conditions. The government has basically subsidized these low-cost businesses. CRST and other companies “have figured out how to make that inexperienced, unsafe labor profitable,” Steve Viscelli, a sociologist and the author of It The Decline of the American Dream: Big Rig: TruckingTIME, last year.
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