The Sexes: Women Truckers

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Adriesue ("Bitsy") Gomez, 33, is a "gear-jamming gal with white-line fever." A woman truck driver from Los Angeles, she is also a pain in the axle to a traditionally macho industry. Her fledgling 150-member Coalition of Women Truck Drivers, an offshoot of the L.A. chapter of the National Organization for Women, already has organization cells in Dallas, Atlanta and central California. Two weeks ago, Gomez won a $6,000 Fair Employment Practices Commission settlement from a California winery on the ground that she had been turned down for a trucking job simply because she was a woman.

Bitsy is out to change the industry's traditional attitude toward female truckers. Some docking areas still have MEN ONLY signs, and many truck stops routinely refuse to let women truckers use the showers. Worse, says Gomez: "When you lose your job to some 18-year-old punk boy after ten years, it makes you real mad."

Bitsy has another major gripe. Women truckers, she says, often have to pass a "sleeper test"—having sex with a foreman or male driver—to get a job. "I've had trucking foremen tell me not to frustrate the other driver or they'll get someone else to do the job as required," she says. Archie Marietta, president of Teamsters Local 208 in Los Angeles, says that he has never heard of the sleeper test. "But if Bitsy is a good-looking woman," he says, "I wouldn't be surprised if some drivers didn't try to use it." To lessen chances for sexual harassment on the road, the coalition is demanding separate rooms for male and female drivers on overnight stops, and relay driving (with just one driver on each stretch of the run). The coalition's other demands: on-the-job training for women; no special tests for drivers already licensed in their categories by the state (women truckers charge that the tests are used to weed out female applicants) and adjustable seats and pedals so women cannot be disqualified for being too small to drive a large truck.

Playing Hooky. The industry's major complaint about women is that they are too weak, though few women truckers can be described as frail. Says Roger Kennedy, terminal manager for a grocery wholesaler: "We've been reluctant to hire women because the job involves unloading heavy cases at Ma and Pa grocers. But Bitsy has sure got our attention, and if we find a qualified woman, we'll be glad to hire her."

Gomez admits that she is a near fanatic about trucking. As a girl in Chicago, she played hooky from school to watch truckers unload, and at drive-in movies she usually watched the freeways instead of the films. The mother of three, she is separated from her husband, and driving is the most important thing in her life. "A good truck is to a woman what a man ought to be," she says, "big and strong and takes you where you want to go. When a woman gets into a semi, it makes up for all the crap women take in our society."