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From the passenger seat to the head of the class

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Amie McLean is all too familiar with the challenges encountered by female drivers in the Canadian trucking industry. Some of her earliest childhood memories involve bouncing around in the passenger seat of a big rig, handing...


VANCOUVER, B.C. – Amie McLean is all too familiar with the challenges encountered by female drivers in the Canadian trucking industry. Some of her earliest childhood memories involve bouncing around in the passenger seat of a big rig, handing her mom wax paper-wrapped sandwiches and thermos lids filled with coffee as she steered her big rig down city streets and over Lower Mainland highways.

“My mom worked for a long time in the trucking industry and moved into long-haul as we got older, which makes sense for a single mom,” McLean recalled in an interview with Truck News. “Over the years she faced a lot of issues in trying to navigate the industry. She received a lot of support from male drivers out there and a lot of problems as well.”

Today, McLean is a Ph.D candidate at Simon Fraser University, conducting a comprehensive research project on the sociology of the B.C. trucking industry with plans to write a dissertation on the subject in the fall. Trucking, McLean admits, isn’t a subject that garners a lot of attention among academics but it’s a cause that’s close to her heart, especially gender-related issues affecting professional drivers.

“You would probably laugh if you saw the number of books in the university library on trucking – especially ones that aren’t just about policy and actually focus on the people and the work,” McLean writes on her Web site: www.bctrucking.posterous.com. “It’s no big surprise that academics haven’t really been interested in trucking, since not a lot of academics are or were working class. That’s changing a bit now, and as a trucker’s daughter I want to give back to the community that has given me so much – including great friends, a strong work ethic, and better chances in life. The best way I can see to do that is to learn and teach about what’s really going on in the industry.”

McLean’s research involves interviewing B.C. truckers and spending some time with them on the job and in the cab. She wants to gain a better understanding of the issues the province’s drivers are facing on the front lines. So far, she says the response has been good.

“So far they have been quite open,” she says. “It helps a lot that I – to some degree – know my way around a truck and some of the issues that are out there. I think there’s a real eagerness for some of these issues to be addressed.”

As she has immersed herself in the project, McLean has learned gender issues in the trucking industry can be as daunting for men as for women. For instance, she feels the macho image of the traditional trucker puts pressure on many males to push themselves too hard.

“I think what we don’t think about as much is the ways that it being a ‘real man’s’ job can push drivers to feel like they have no choice but to drive longer, work harder and not take rests when they’re tired,” she contends.

She also says many male drivers struggle in coping with issues such as post-traumatic stress, which may affect them after they witness an accident.

“It seems anybody who has been out there for any length of time has a horrendous story,” she says. “The amount of times truckers are first on the scene at accidents and the sorts of traumas and trials they deal with.”

Very little research has been done into the sociological aspect of the trucking industry, and McLean’s goal is to provide some meaningful research that will be of value to policymakers and drivers.

“I’m hoping this will have real practical results in terms of addressing real issues truckers on the ground are facing,” she says. “Hopefully it can foster greater quality and openness in the industry and better working conditions for all truckers.”

Some of the changes she’d like to see?

“I think there’s a need for drivers to get paid for all the hours they work,” McLean says. “Right now, I’m hearing a lot from drivers for whom that’s just not happening.”

She has also identified a need for improved training.

“The idea that trucking is not skilled labour just doesn’t reflect reality,” she notes. “There is a lot of skill involved and a huge amount of responsibility when truckers are taking big rigs through downtown Toronto loaded with fuel.”

McLean would also like to see a greater work-life balance restored to the profession.

“I don’t think a conventional work-life balance is possible, but I think the industry can do a lot better than it is right now,” she says. “There’s a lot of pressure and it’s a lot harder for truckers to have a family and maintain those ties. Look at the stats of what truckers go through in terms of family life and health; achieving that work-life balance will go a long way towards improving driver health and probably productivity as well, because as work-life balance becomes better productivity increases.”

If you’re a B.C. trucker wanting to provide some insight into the realities of the profession, McLean would like to hear from you. You can e-mail her at amie_mclean@sfu.ca or visit her Web site at
www.bctrucking.posterous.com.


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