Vanessa Rivas is the girl who thinks her doll is boring and loves trucks. So, as the coronavirus pandemic intensified her anxiety about losing her auto financing job, she learned how to become a truck driver.
There is enough time to study because the motor vehicle office is closed due to Covid-19. Convincing her parents is a bigger obstacle. Dad said "no" and mother said "never". But Livas, 34, in Los Angeles, went anyway.
"When it comes to trucking, my father must understand that this is no longer a man's world," said Rivas, who is undergoing license training.
Only 6.6% of truck drivers are women, but Latinos are increasingly joining the overall workforce in other industries. According to data from the Ministry of Labor, their number is approximately 12.5 million, accounting for approximately 16% of all professional women.
Although many people dispute the claim of a shortage of truck drivers, these jobs are known as good opportunities for Latinos and other women. In an industry where high turnover rates are usually attributed to low wages and benefits, the reality is much more complicated.
For those who work at minimum wage in the service industry, this may seem like an opportunity for growth, but it actually comes with hidden costs and risks of attack and harassment. An annual income of $80,000 or more is a strong attraction, but a higher salary may mean longer and more time away from family. It may also take years to reach this level of compensation.
The Latinos who talked about their experiences said that trucking has brought them significant benefits and challenges.
"In this job, you can change your life and make a lot of money, and you will feel that your job is purposeful," said Desiree Wood, president of Real Women in Trucking, an organization that promotes safety, guidance, and industry transparency. Women in trucking.
But Wood warned that some companies claim that there is a shortage of drivers to attract more women and minorities. “They are eager to get rid of fast food jobs or other types of jobs because they can’t really earn a living wage.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for Latinos aged 20 and above was 5.5% at the end of October, and about 57.8% of Latinos participated in the labor market.
The median weekly income of Latinos last year was $705, which is at the bottom of the income level. According to BLS, the median weekly income of Asian men-the highest-is $1,447.
Congress is trying to promote the recruitment of more women in the industry.
President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act on November 15 and ordered the Federal Motor Transportation Safety Administration to establish a volunteer advisory committee to promote the recruitment and retention of women in the trucking industry.
At the same time, Rivas is still working on her auto finance job, and she is working hard to obtain a license to drive a truck.
She said that she was told that she could earn between US$2,000 and US$3,000 a week, depending on how many hours she was willing to work. If she drove out of the state, she could earn between US$3,000 and US$4,000.
"I didn't know I could make so much money in a week," she said.
Latinos who enter the trucking industry say that new occupations mean higher salaries, they take them away from jobs that they think are not fulfilling, and give them power and a sense of accomplishment.
Although some people have been resisted by their spouses or other relatives, they said that male friends, classmates (mostly men) and important others generally encourage them to drive trucks, join them or help them with training.
Monica García-Pérez, an economics professor specializing in labor economics at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, said that with the easing of the COVID-19 lockdown measures, the employment of Latinos has recovered faster than that of Hispanic men. .
García-Pérez said that so far, trucking has not attracted Latin Americans across the country, but there may be regional growth in areas where warehouses and distribution centers are concentrated.
She said those who re-enter the labor market appear to be filling jobs in male-dominated fields, such as packaging and transportation.
When the market crashed in 2008, 42-year-old Antoinette McIntosh was working as a financial adviser at East Coast Bank. Her job and six-figure salary disappeared overnight.
Robert Montgomery, a good friend who later became her fiance, told her to use her love of driving to join his company as a truck driver.
The company they work for paid for her transportation and training expenses to Salt Lake City in exchange for the couple to work in the company for a year.
"I've been there ever since," said Mackintosh, who is black and Puerto Rican and lives in the Cleveland area of Mississippi. She has been a truck driver for 15 years.
Mackintosh's father was also a truck driver, and her parents "do their best to keep me away from the truck," she said. In order to realize their wishes, she went to college, majoring in psychology and social work, "making everyone else happy."
She said that McIntosh now earns more than she earns when she works in the bank.
Mackintosh said: "What many people don't tell you is that in many companies, this is more paid than white-collar jobs, so it is no longer a shame."
Rosio Villagrana, 35, obtained a Class A truck driver's license on July 30. The company that hired her told her that it hadn't had a female truck driver for several years, she said.
She worked and managed a pawnshop for about ten years. But the work of her friends driving semi-trailers has long fascinated her.
At the beginning of the pandemic, due to time constraints and feeling restless at work and at home, Villagrana decided to try driving a truck.
"Why not?" she recalled. "I am very supportive of women's empowerment. I think we are capable of doing what we do, and there is more, especially in this male-dominated industry."
Ultimately, her goal is to become an owner-operator and one day have her own truck fleet.
Tracy Barajas, 27, of Corona, California, has been driving a truck for three years. She used to work in an online fashion store and as a dispatcher for a plumbing company.
She said her boyfriend Oscar Hernandez and cousins who were truck drivers inspired her to jump into the trucking industry.
Barajas said that before entering the trucking industry, she had been living on salary. She briefly attended a community college and plans to become a psychologist.
She said that in trucking, she and Hernandez drove as a team and recorded their journey online, saving tens of thousands of dollars alone, and her income was four times the previous income.
Barajas said: "I never thought I could or would drive a truck."
Despite all the positive claims, trucking can be a dangerous profession, and it affects marriages and families. Not everyone will have a windfall.
Mackintosh said her marriage ended due to truck transportation. Her spouse when she first started working didn't want her to drive a truck.
When she rented a truck from her employer, she also lost money. Mackintosh said maintenance, gasoline, inspection and registration labels, insurance and other expenses are all deducted from her salary. Even if she increased the workload, she did not achieve it.
McIntosh eventually joined a class action lawsuit against the company, and the company reached a settlement with her and other drivers on leasing arrangements.
Mackintosh once traveled with her fiancé Montgomery. During a trip in Wisconsin in June, he had a heart attack while they were sitting in the truck cab. She said that he died in her arms.
She continued to drive, in part to fulfill her promise to help support his autistic brother, she said.
In February 2020, Barajas was rear-ended by a drunk driver while driving a truck in Colorado.
Soon after the accident, her company reduced her and her boyfriend's salary by 10 cents and terminated their benefits, including their health care plan and 401(k) retirement benefits.
Barajas and her boyfriend switched to FedEx drivers in May 2020 and started living a good life again.
Wood, a true woman from the trucking industry, said that as more and more Latinos start to drive trucks, they need to be cautious.
She said that women often get training with male driver partners they don't know, and this is where "a lot of women get stuck," she said. Some people were raped or harassed and then retaliated against when they reported the incident, she said.
The Federal Motor Transportation Security Administration has been studying the harassment and attacks on women and minority truck drivers.
None of the Latinos interviewed said they had experienced any physical sexual harassment or assault.
Barajas said that she received hateful and sexist comments on her YouTube page because she was a woman driving a truck. But she said, insisting that her comments come from women who say she inspires them, she said.
Wood said that student drivers may also be exploited because they receive low wages during training. She warned women not to participate in company-sponsored training, even though the women interviewed for this article said they had good experiences.
The American Trucking Association, a trade and lobbying organization for major trucking employers, reported that the annualized turnover rate of truck drivers was 90% last year, a point lower than in 2019. For smaller teams, this percentage is 69%, which is lower than 72%. Wood said that a lot of the turnover occurred in the truck driver's first year.
Many companies pay drivers based on the number of miles they drive. The rate per mile will vary based on experience. Drivers may not drive enough miles to make money they think they can make.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2020, the median annual salary of heavy truck and tractor trailer drivers was $47,130. This means that half of these drivers earn more and half earn less.
Ellen Voie, president of Women in Trucking, said that the turnover of private fleets is low. Wal-Mart has stated that the average annual salary of its drivers is about $87,500, and they earn training fees and salaries when they are not driving.
Voie said the biggest predictor of turnover is whether drivers feel misled about their commitments.
"Operators who can match this reality with their commitment to drivers will keep drivers, but those who oversell or fail to meet the products they sell will discourage drivers and leave," Voi said.
Voie advises women to ask questions such as whether the truck driving school is credible, whether appropriate training will be provided, and which carriers "walk". She suggested asking the operator if the mileage promised to the driver, what kind of home time they offer, and the salary increase and safety bonus they offer.
Mackintosh suggested that Latinos enter the trucking industry by first learning the industry, driving for the company, increasing savings, paying off the bills at home, and trying to understand the costs associated with leasing trucks.
Women acknowledge that there are pitfalls and barriers that need to be considered, which may prevent others from following them into the industry. But Barajas said that the low number of women in the field should not be one of these reasons.
"Who cares if it is a male-dominated industry?" she said. "I would say just a step forward. Do it."
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Suzanne Gamboa is a national reporter for NBC Latino and NBCNews.com
Edwin Flores reports and produces for NBC Latino and is headquartered in Anaheim, California.