a slipshod argument for uniformed drivers

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You’ve all seen these guys. Pulling up to a customer’s dock and climbing out of the cab in their flip flop sandals, shorts and muscle shirts….looking more like they’re heading for a day at the beach rather than the professional drivers they’re supposed to be.

Don’t get me wrong. I think people should wear whatever they want, but when you’re presenting yourself to a customer or the public, you owe it to your carrier to look like you came to work, like you know what you’re doing.

I don’t even want to get into the issue of personal hygiene. The guys who are too busy driving to bother finding a place to wash up. Perhaps they’re astonished that they have to wash at all, seeing as how their lives revolve around sleeping in the bunk eating and driving. Perhaps they’re so used to the pong emitted by their bodies that they don’t think anyone else can smell notices. But one’s metabolism doesn’t stop just because you have a sedentary lifestyle. No, the body wants to sweat and work and will always try to compensate.

But it’s uniformed drivers I want to talk about. When did they go out of style? No doubt, most carriers and fleets would like to see their drivers wearing their brand but it’s often a difficult concept to introduce. When I worked for OK Express, I remember Peter Lobraico set up a full length mirror in the drivers room that bore the inscription “I’m OK today!” This was one company that promised their customers uniformed drivers, as I recall they supplied each employee with a uniform allowance, some kind of formula.

Many owner ops are not interested in wearing a company outfit. That’s why they’re owner ops, in many cases—drive what they want and wear what they want.

But somehow the uniform concept has eroded. Take CN for instance. Back in the old days when they used to deliver freight, their drivers wore peaked caps and blazer jackets, matching pants. Today’s CN drivers are a motley bunch, wearing whatever they feel under their reflective vests. Same with CP Express/Smith Transport. You might have been haggard and tired and hungover at the start of your shift, but the shoes were shined, the pants pressed (under the mattress of the cot in the drivers room.)

I’m harkening back to the time of the Canadian TV series, Cannonball, a seminal Canadian trucker/detective series circa 1960. What were Cannonball Mike Malone and his side kick Jerry Austin wearing? Same thing as today, basically, short jacket, pressed pants, crisp work shirt, and peaked cap. The peaked cap has been replace by the ubiquitous baseball cap, but is part of the uniform package for many companies.

Ross Mackie was telling me the other day he lay down the law about uniforms about ten years ago. Guys were wearing whatever they wanted and presenting themselves as a rag tag crew at moving jobs and he’d had enough. To this day his drivers are required to wear company uniforms, no jeans. Mackie baseball caps are fine but don’t let the boss see you wearing one backwards, hip hop style. A quick survey of a couple of carriers, Erb drivers full uniform, but Meyers seems like jeans are acceptable with a company shirt. Of course courier companies like Puro, FedEx and UPS, always uniformed drivers, the uniform is representative of security in a sense. Private fleets, too, seem to take branding more seriously.

Some drivers will never like being put in a uniform. For me, I’d always felt it saved my clothes, and while I was on the clock the company owned me anyway. But some guys just hate wearing a uniform. Best uniform I’ve worn was for Eatons: understated and stylish, deep blue, nice jackets with “Eaton’s” embossed subtly over the heart. Best rain gear was from Weston’s, cape style that’s excellent for fishing in a downpour. Worst is polyester blend Percolator polo shirt I’m wearing while typing this.

What’re your thoughts, are uniformed drivers a good idea or a thing of the past?

And a big PS here, as I’ve finally gotten disentangled from the misguided behemoth Rogers, my email contacts are all lost, years of contacts actually. So anyone trying to find me I have to start all over again, and now I am harryrudolfs7@gmail.com
my apologies

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Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.

With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude.

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  • My thoughts on uniforms? If an employer wants to play dress-up, go play Barbie! As long as drivers look reasonably presentable (which I do), then there’s no reason for a uniform. Uniforms only serve to stroke the ego of the employer. Put it another way: the day my employer introduces a uniform is the day I find another employer.

    If your people are smelly and dirty, then maybe a uniform isn’t the solution: maybe you should re-examine your hiring practices. Maybe your company is so desperate for people that you’ll hire anyone. I mean really, you can’t trust your employees to dress themselves, yet you hand them over the keys to a $150,000 truck loaded with your customer’s merchandise? What’s wrong with this picture?

    The overall problem in trucking is that companies do not pay enough, or treat their people well enough to retain good, motivated employees. A uniform is just another in a long line of authoritarian measures to deal with this. Have a problem with poor work ethics, get a Qualcomm system to record your drivers’ every move; have a problem with drugs? Make your employees pee into a cup. How about filming your drivers? just in case…

    I have a better idea: treat your drivers well, pay your drivers well, provide a good service, and you’ll have a happy company that won’t need uniforms. But I’m afraid that idea went out decades ago.

  • I only sell my time and skills.The company does not own me at any time.If I wish to sell my time,and they wish to buy some,I work.I dress in a clean and decent manner because that is how I wish to present myself.When the company president and executive cadre start running around like Mike Malone clones,I’ll take a second look at the matter.

  • I guss I am old fashion but a driver or a dock man in uniform is to me more professional

    and provides the satisfaction that my freight will be handled professionally

    it is just like having a nice clean trailer back up to my dock

    anything less I made a remark to my sales rep. or I changed companies

  • I require my employees to wear uniforms which i pay for When they go to a customer
    to make a delivery the customer knows who they are dealing with instead of seeing someone in jeans and footwear not laced up hat on backwards If they do not want to wear the uniform they can drive for someone else

  • I have been a company driver for many different companys for over 40 years .i always dressed in neat clean comfortable clothing. IF you are unloading in Alaska Monday in JAN and Sandiego Friday a uniform can be very restrictive due to the diferrence in weather conditions. you can wear the proper neat clothing . I have noticed more people driving dressed like slobs in the last 10 or fifeteen years . I guess they are our new age but I would not want them representing me but its not only trucking that have a problem .construction logging and other industries have the same group of slobs. the only way to cure IT is to have W.C B.IN EACH PROVINCE AND STATE require the dress code for different jobs and enforce it The cops and scale officers will just love this new reg. CLINT