Hair tests help trucking firm keep drug users off road

Journal Sentinel files

Schneider National Inc. is one of several trucking companies to use hair tests to detect drug use.

By Rick Romell of the Journal Sentinel

Over the last four years, some 38,000 would-be truck drivers applying at Schneider National Inc. have had their hair snipped for a drug test.

Of those, 1,411 failed. The analysis detected cocaine, marijuana or other banned substances. Yet more than 90% of those 1,411 applicants were able to pass a urine test – the government-mandated, industry standard – looking for the same drugs.

In a way, that’s not surprising. Molecules of methamphetamine, tetrahydrocannabinol and other drugs remain in urine for only a few days. They can stay bound in hair for months.

Not only that. Schneider tells applicants in advance that they’ll be tested. A little abstinence and – bingo – clean urine sample.

“The urine-based drug test is simply not catching chronic drug users,” said Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety and security at the Green Bay-based firm.

So Schneider and a handful of other trucking companies, including Marshfield’s Roehl Transport Inc., have added haircuts to their screening process.

That’s meant that thousands of drug users aren’t wheeling 80,000-pound trucks down the highway for Schneider, Roehl, J.B. Hunt and other firms.

“The bad news,” said Osterberg, “is they are likely driving a truck for a carrier who doesn’t require hair testing.”

Now, Schneider and others in the industry want the U.S. Department of Transportation to put its stamp of approval on hair testing and allow test results to be shared with other trucking firms.

Currently, Schneider executives say, that’s illegal because while the government allows hair testing, it’s not officially recognized.

“That’s one of the areas that need to be fixed,” Osterberg said.

Hair testing has its limits and its critics. It doesn’t detect recent drug use and may show positive results for smoked drugs when someone has merely been in the same room where they were consumed, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

In Wisconsin, hair testing hasn’t been accepted by the state Labor and Industry Review Commission, which decides appeals in cases involving unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation and equal rights.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is committed to studying testing methods beyond the one it now approves – urine – but has said hair and other specimens raise significant issues that may take more time to resolve.

Even without a federal imprimatur, though, the advantages of hair screening – not only does it show drug use over a much longer period than urine, but the test is more difficult to cheat – have helped spur increasing adoption in trucking.

“It’s a deterrent,” said John Spiros, vice president of safety and claims management at Roehl, which began testing hair a year ago. “When people know that you’re doing hair-follicle testing, a lot of them won’t even apply.”

There’s a huge volume of churn in trucking. Industrywide, annual driver turnover for truckload carriers – the long-haul, big-load fleets – is running somewhere between 70% and 90%.

That means the companies as a group are replacing more than seven out of 10 drivers a year. Some are leaving trucking, often after just a short time in the industry. Most are hopping from one company to another.

Either way, firms such as Schneider, with more than 11,000 drivers, or Arkansas’ J.B. Hunt, with 10,500, do lots of hiring – and face lots of chances to hire someone who uses drugs.

Urine test easy to cheat

Urine testing alone will miss many of them. Beyond the narrow window on drug use that it offers, the test can be subverted easily, a 2007 investigation by the Government Accountability Office found.

Posing as commercial drivers, the undercover investigators went to 24 approved urine-collection sites around the country.

They gained entry to all 24 with bogus driver’s licenses, showing that “a drug user could send someone to take a drug test in their place using fake identification.”

At three quarters of the sites, the collection room offered running water or other means to dilute or adulterate a specimen.

And at eight of the sites, the investigators walked in – undetected – with purported drug-masking agents they bought on the Internet.

It’s easy to find these things on the web, where companies tout products such as ClearTest, Quick Fix and Ultra Pure synthetic urine.

“Guaranteed to beat any of the urine tests,” one firm promises. ” . . . Just add warm water!”

For the GAO investigators, the promises proved true. Every drug-masking product they used went undetected by the screening lab, the agency reported.

“A urine-based drug test is very easy to defeat,” Osterberg said. ” . . . There’s a whole cottage industry out there.”

Too risky to hire

Gordon Klemp, managing partner of a firm that publishes research and analysis on trucking industry wages, estimates that 6% to 8% of driver applicants use drugs. He applauds use of hair testing, saying that hiring drug users is “a risk that carriers simply can’t take.”

From a business standpoint, the risk is financial liability if a drug-using driver is involved in an accident that kills or maims someone.

Failure to take the extra step of hair testing, even though it’s not required by the government, could arguably expose trucking companies to such risk, said John Duncan Varda, a Madison attorney with more than 40 years of experience handling transportation matters.

Don Devitt, a Chicago attorney whose clients include carriers, said the concern is real, though more likely to be an issue in the future than now.

But he added that “juries don’t look kindly on trucking companies,” and it’s prudent for firms to show they’re doing all they can to screen out drug users, as Schneider, Roehl and Hunt are doing.

“You don’t want to be the first one to be burned, and there will be a first one to be burned,” Devitt said.

Said David Saunders, chief executive at Compliance Safety Systems, a Texas firm that does drug testing, including hair, “Remember, a (plaintiff’s) attorney’s job is to get the jury emotional – ‘How could you, how could you allow this driver to drive?’ ”

The trucking industry recently won a related victory in Congress, which ordered the Transportation Department to establish a national database of drivers’ positive results on drug and alcohol tests. The database is to be up and running within two years, and motor carriers have to tap into it when they screen driver applicants.

As things stand, however, it will show only the results of urine tests.

Osterberg said Schneider will encourage the Transportation Department, as it frames the regulation that will govern the database, to include hair test results.

The American Trucking Associations, the industry’s principal lobbying group, also wants hair testing in the database. But Abigail Potter, a research analyst with the organization, said that probably won’t happen without further Congressional action.

 

Article courtesy of:

Tons of Trucking Jobs! … That Nobody Wants?

Tons of Trucking Jobs! … That Nobody Wants?

During tough economic times with high unemployment, Americans should be jumping at any chance to work, but trucking companies are struggling to hire drivers.

There are as many as 200,000 job openings nationwide for long haul truckers, according to David Heller, director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Association.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also sees the demand for truckers increasing, up from the 1.5 million drivers on the road now. It expects trucking to add 330,100 jobs between 2010 and 2020, an increase of 20%.

But these positions are difficult to fill, and even harder to keep filled.

“Nobody wants to drive a truck,” said Heller.

The pay isn’t bad: Truckers earn a median annual wage of $37,930, which is $4,000 more than the median wage for all jobs, according to the BLS. The top 10% of truck drivers make more than $58,000 per year.

So why do so many long-haul trucking jobs remain unfilled?

First, it’s difficult to get certified. The biggest hurdle for the unemployed is probably getting a commercial driver’s license, which requires a training course that’s up to eight weeks long and costs about $6,000.

“Drivers are put under intense scrutiny before they get into the industry, and for good reason,” said Brett Aquila, trucker and creator of the blog TruckingTruth. “It’s incredibly risky putting someone behind the wheel of an 80,000 pound truck with your company’s name on it.”

And when drivers do get on the road, they find the long-haul lifestyle isn’t easy, living for weeks at a time in the cramped confines of the back of the truck.

“You have a gigantic culture shock when someone is suddenly living on the road in a space the size of a walk-in closet,” said Aquila. “Then you have the pressure, the erratic sleep patterns, and the time away from home, family, and friends.”

For these reasons, job turnover is high for truckers. At the same time, as the economy stages a gradual recovery, more new positions are becoming available.

“When people start to spend more money, that means there’s more freight to move,” said Heller. “When shelves need to be stocked, trucks start rolling. There’s not a thing you own that has not been on a truck at some point.”

Several of the largest long haul trucking companies in the U.S. are hiring. Schneider National, J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Swift Transportation and Werner Enterprises are aggressively recruiting drivers on their web sites.

Derek Leathers, president and chief operating officer at Werner, said that his company has about 100 open long-haul truck driving positions. The current shortage of truckers has forced his company to work much harder than it used to in order to fill these positions, spending more money on advertising and additional recruiting staff.

Werner is offering a $5,000 signing bonus for its “team driver” positions, where two drivers are together in one truck, working in shifts so that the truck can cover as much as 1,000 miles a day. The company also offers paid apprenticeships to veterans, hiring 35 of them per month. Werner and other trucking outfits tend to put a lot of emphasis on recruiting military veterans, since they have GI Bill funding available to them that will pay for trucking school.

Trucking can be good work, and even highly lucrative, but it will never be an easy choice, says Leo Wilkins, an independent long-haul trucker from St. Charles, Minn., who’s been driving for 40 years.

Wilkins says he can gross up to $300,000 per year. After paying for fuel, insurance, truck payments and maintenance he can clear as much as $150,000 in take-home pay, as long as he spends most of his time on the highway, living in his customized sleeper.

“I stay out on the road for six weeks at a time,” he said. “In this business, you can’t be running home every weekend if you’re going to make money.”

A message we got today from SCHNEIDER NATIONAL — To Alliance School of Trucking, Inc. —

A message we got today from SCHNEIDER NATIONAL — To Alliance School of Trucking, Inc. —Drivers at Schneider National continue to be very busy as we are adding new business from customers in all of our divisions (Van Truckload, Dedicated, Tanker, Intermodal and Oilfield). To keep up with customer demand, we are adding new trucks and providing more career opportunities for your graduates and alumni.

To help graduates transition to their new career, Schneider has increased its Tuition Reimbursement to $6,000. Reimbursement payments are made monthly and drivers must be hired within 60 days of graduating.

Your school has done a great job to provide the training students need to start a new career. We help build on that training to ensure each new driver is prepared, safe and comfortable going on their own as a solo or team driver.

Once graduating from your school, Schneider provides 4 days of classroom training, followed by 1 week of on the job training with a Training Engineer and 5 days back in the classroom. Your graduates will be provided competitive pay during all training before moving to mileage pay.

If any of your alumni are seeking a new carrier or is just getting back into the industry, Schneider has opportunities. We also offer to pick-up tuition reimbursement if they still have an outstanding balance with you.

In addition to its Tuition Reimbursement Program, Schneider offers current and former military members a VA-approved Apprenticeship Program. The program pays up to $1,069 per month in a new driver’s first year (in addition to Schneider paychecks). Check out our Military page for more information on schneiderjobs.com.

Whatever your graduates and alumni are looking for, Schneider has it. Please direct them toschneiderjobs.com to find an opportunity that is the ideal fit for them:

Team: Rack up the miles as Schneider’s highest paid drivers
Regional: Weekly home time and predictable miles
Dedicated: Service one customer and get maximum home time (daily to weekly)
Tanker: Guaranteed home time programs
Oil Field: Deliver fracking materials to off-road well sites
OTR: Rack up the miles while making deliveries across the U.S. and Canada
Intermodal: Daily or time at home throughout the week delivering to and from rail ramps
Thank you for the job you do to keep our industry moving. If I can help in any way, please let me know.