Latina truck operators are emerging as the new face of trucking and spend long working hours crisscrossing through highways and borders to deliver goods all around Mexico and the U.S. Despite this job being an economic opportunity for their families, it exposes them to situations of violence, sexual harassment, and even assault. Many women behind the wheel try to speak up against these crimes, and thankfully they are not alone: some organizations are doing everything in their power to support them and put the brakes on these loathsome “tricks of the trade.”

Laura’s Story

Laura Zúñiga is a Mexican trailera who got into the truck driving business in search of a better life for her daughters. Even though she loves being on the road, she never imagined she would spend her days traveling the highways.

In one of her jobs as a Latina trucker or trailera, she was assigned to drive a load to Florida with a co-driver who had harassed her several times. Despite this, she accepted the gig, thinking of the nice Christmas presents she could buy for her daughters. She never foresaw what would happen: her coworker sexually assaulted her during the first part of the trip. As soon as it happened, Laura called her employer to report him. She was told she had to continue driving to Arizona with her assaulter until they could switch the load. 

When she finally returned to her home in Fresno, California, Laura was shocked to learn that Eagle Truck Lines had decided to fire her, and they were not even going to pay her for her latest trip.

“I didn’t want to go back to driving. Mentally I wasn’t prepared. But when I started looking for work, as a woman… People don’t think I know how to drive a truck. They always ask me: ‘In what company have you worked?’ and I mention Eagle Truck Lines. And from the company they have said that I broke their trucks, that I wasn’t a good employee, that I caused trouble, and that I didn’t know how to drive properly,” Laura shared with BoldLatina.

Thankfully, Laura was able to find work at the laundry where she used to work and is now also cleaning other people’s houses for a living, but that change of employment means she now brings less money home than before. “I was living paycheck to paycheck, making about $300 a week. In the trucking industry, you make about $2,000 a week. It’s a big difference,” said Laura in an interview for the legal nonprofit Legal Aid at Work.

Laura gets the opportunity to get back in the truck cab sporadically for short distances but has “lost the thrill” she used to feel on her job as a trailera. As she puts it, she tries to be there for her teenage daughters instead of being gone for weeks at a time. When on the road, Laura gets especially anxious when dealing with men on her nightly gas stops, because she doesn’t want to run into her attacker: “My mind is very treacherous. I try to control myself and focus on what I’m doing, and I try to control my thoughts, because this guy drives, and I still think he’s here, in Fresno, where that happened. He used to live in some flats not far from me. So yes, I still think about him, I try to avoid it, but it’s difficult,” Laura told BoldLatina.

Dangerous Situations for Latina Truck Drivers

Laura is not the only victim the patriarchy has claimed from behind the wheel: many women have suffered all kinds of on-the-job aggressions that range from sexual advances to economic violence. Unfortunately, this gender power abuse is common currency.

Sometimes there are aggressive drivers. Also, sometimes the employees don’t want to pay me. I have left many companies because of that. They say ‘Run, run, run’, but when it’s time to pay, they don’t answer the phone,” Laura told BoldLatina.

Employers and male employees alike tend to take advantage of women workers, especially if they belong to a minority like Latinas. According to Laura, they have to face stereotypes like being assumed to be prostitutes or being asked for sexual favors, which is something Laura had to go through with her aggressor: “He said that Hispanic women were very easy, and when that happened. They told me to keep quiet, not to call 911. ‘Didn’t you want to be a troquera?’, that's what the boss told me. So, if I want to be a troquera, do I have to keep quiet? That’s how I took it, but how can I keep quiet? I don’t understand,” Laura told BoldLatina.

Traileras’ Allies: Women Rights Nonprofits and Organizations

Thankfully, Laura decided not to keep quiet and to seek legal aid, but she had a hard time getting her voice heard. However, after many calls and blunt rejections from law firms who refused to take her case, she found Nora Cassidy, an attorney from Legal Aid at Work, a non-profit organization that has been providing free legal services to low-wage workers in the state of California for over 100 years. 

“I’ve heard Laura say that the assault was horrible, but that it was even worse when the employer chose not to do anything about it,” said Nora Cassidy, Laura’s attorney, in an interview with Legal Aid at Work. 

She met Laura through a gender equity and LGBTQ rights program and began the litigation process right away. They got in touch with a local law firm and started looking to pay the costs of the case. They reached out to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, managed by the National Women’s Law Center. 

“Time’s Up Legal Defence Fund provides support to victims of sexual abuse and discrimination in the workplace. Since its launch in January 2018, the fund has provided financial support to more than 400 legal cases involving sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace. We have also facilitated the connection between people seeking legal assistance and specialized lawyers,” said Liz Chacko, Senior Counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, in an exclusive interview with BoldLatina.

Thanks to women’s rights organization such as these, this trailers was able to make her voice heard by the people who were supposed to protect her, but she also wished to end this tendency of neglect from the government:

“Laura’s biggest goal in bringing the litigation was to get the word out about what happened, to hold Eagle Track Lines responsible, and to ensure this didn’t happen to anybody else. And so we got both financial assistance from them and their media expertise. The financial piece is really helpful because, for instance, we settled, but we didn’t end up getting any attorney's fees or costs. And in fact, even Laura still hasn’t been paid what they had agreed to pay her,” Nora told BoldLatina.

This isn’t the first time these legal activists have seen cases like Laura’s. Actually, there is an ongoing co-joint lawsuit with Real Women in Trucking and the law firm Peter Romer-Firedman Law PLLC against another trucking company that discriminates against female workers. “The lawsuit notes that, despite advertised vacancies, interested women faced a pause in hiring and long waiting lists. Policies that are discriminatory and illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act,” Liz Chacko told BoldLatina.

Without Legal Aid at Work, Latinas from the California area like Laura would have to fend for themselves. According to Nora, the legal situation in Central Valley is critical because of systemic indifference and neglect: “The Central Valley is an attorney dessert. It is historically and structurally very under-resourced. It is a place where there are a lot of workplace violations and employers who act with impunity because they know there aren’t enough attorneys and certainly there aren’t enough attorneys who will represent low-wage workers for free. By taking on Laura’s case, by working in Fresno, by working in Central Valley, it’s a demonstration that workers in Fresno and in the Central Valley have just as much right to be safe in the workplace as all workers. And when that doesn’t happen, the workers will stand up for themselves, and that we are here to help them do that,” Nora said in an interview with Legal Aid at Work.

Non-profits like Legal Aid at Work and organizations like the National Women’s Law Center are crucial for Latina workers. “If it wasn’t for Legal Aid, I would have given up. When you have a lawyer, and you see them fighting for you, you want to fight, too,” said Laura in an interview with Legal Aid at Work. 

What Lies Ahead

Little by little, Laura is returning to driving and being herself again. She wishes her fight against Eagle Truck Lines will set an example for her daughters and that they learn the value of asserting themselves in life. 

“One day I hope that they will read my interviews and that they will study, that they will prepare themselves, that they will not be like me, that they will be the bosses, not the employees. I would like the best for them, for all women to stand up and look beyond. My mother was cleaning houses and I thought I was going to clean houses. I felt that there was nothing else. Sometimes you close yourself off and think that this is the way it should be, and it isn’t. I tell them that the world is big, and that there are many possibilities. I’m putting that in their heads because my mum didn’t say anything about studying,” Laura told BoldLatina. 

All women, no matter their origin, race, class, or job, should be able to say “no” like Laura did and stand up for themselves. Legal Aid at Work, Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, and the National Women’s Law Center are there to fight on Latina’s side and to put a stop to this never-ending story of violence. But most importantly, we have each other, and that is the most important aid a woman could ask for.

If you are facing any type of workplace harassment or if you were sexually assaulted by your employer, a coworker, or anyone at work, feel free to contact the NWLC or Legal Aid at Work.

This article is in collaboration with the National Women's Law Center.

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