Revenge doesn't pay

| May 31, 2007

Leaving a job on bad terms hurts you and your fellow drivers.

Tales abound of vengeful company drivers who blame employers and “get even” by quitting abruptly, then abandoning, damaging, stealing or otherwise vandalizing equipment and freight.

“I’ve heard of concrete truck drivers who drive their boss’s trucks out in the woods, slit the tires and leave the concrete there to harden,” says owner-operator John Chapman of River Rouge, Mich.

Another driver drove his boss’s truck to a hospital, parked, broke off the ignition key, left the truck idling, locked the doors and checked himself into the hospital’s psychiatric unit.

In the midst of the anger some drivers feel toward employers, quitting a job and vandalizing, stealing or abandoning company equipment seems justified, and the perpetrating drivers seem like folk heroes.

But vandalism and theft aren’t heroic, and blame for bad experiences usually misses its rightful target.

“What’s the point? What good does that do?” Chapman asks. “Follow the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he says. “That’s a golden rule among drivers.

You don’t mess with somebody else’s equipment.”

“Because you’re angry with a company, you’re going to destroy something?” asks Tom Birdseye, Duluth, Minn.-based company driver for Sue Vinje Trucking. “That’s stupid.”

“Stupid” is too polite. Angry drivers who plan to damage company equipment to “get even” or “teach a lesson” to the employer should cool down first, then consider:

  • Vandalism, theft and abandoned trucks won’t force the desired changes.

  • It could end the guilty driver’s career and even land him in prison.
  • Other drivers will likely have to clean up the mess.
  • It makes all truckers look bad.

Maybe it feels good for a little while. But after that, it’s all trouble.

“That will follow you around your whole life,” says Birdseye, who has more than 25 years of experience.

Drivers who cause problems while quitting will soon complete job applications that require past employers’ names and phone numbers.

“Other carriers might request a letter of reference from the past employer,” says Sebastian Cook, manager of Allied Systems’ Jupiter, Fla., terminal.

If a company driver vandalizes or abandons truck, trailer or freight, his former boss can pass that on when the driver’s prospective employers call.

“Damaging equipment, not turning in equipment the company loans him, or not giving the employer the courtesy of knowing you want to quit: these are big no-nos,” Cook says.

Even bad-mouthing a past employer too much can haunt you. So can quitting under fraudulent conditions, such as after faking an injury or accident.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times that comes back around and doesn’t turn out the way the driver planned,” Cook says.

Laws limit the questions prospective employers can ask and the answers former employers can give. The question “Would you hire him again?” is allowed. A simple, one-word reply makes or breaks a driver’s job hunt. If it doesn’t, the background check will.

“We do a thorough background check,” Cook says. “We call previous employers and get whatever information is necessary to make the decision. A lot of times it does boil down to asking if they’d hire him back.”

A problem driver “wouldn’t be a good fit,” Cook says.

“Believe me, you don’t want to leave on poor terms and screw up your reference,” Birdseye says. “If you don’t have the reference, then you’re not working anymore – not in trucking, anyway. In our neck of the woods the trucking companies are all kind of related. If you burn your bridge with one, you burn your bridge with all of them.”

Maybe past employers won’t learn about the bad-mouthing. But they might.

“Yeah, talking bad about your old employer can hurt you,” Birdseye says. “You say one thing; drivers exaggerate when passing it on. It can really blow up in your face.”

How do you want to be remembered?
“Most of the time, if you screw up, it will follow you around,” Chapman says. “Who knows? Maybe they’ll call you back and offer you more money.”

“You might even have to bite your tongue, put your tail between your legs and ask for your old job back,” Birdseye says.

Stranger things have happened.

“If you left respectfully, they’ll take you back,” Birdseye says. “But you won’t have that option if you damage their equipment.”

“I’ve seen cases where guys left on bad terms, and a few years later they return to the company,” Cook says. “But that doesn’t work out too well if you burn your bridges behind you.”

Damage, steal or abandon the boss’s equipment, and unemployment might be the least worry.

“What guys don’t realize is that this is all regulated by the federal government,” Birdseye says. He says that means the United States Department of Transportation, or other federal agencies, might handle the crime.

“You can do hard time,” Birdseye says, telling of a gasoline tanker driver who drove into a swamp, opened the drain valve and left.

“He called them up and said, ‘Here’s your truck. Come and get it,’” Birdseye says.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stepped in with a big shoe.

“Now he’s doing hard time at the federal penitentiary in Arizona,” Birdseye says.

And you’re probably not the only driver your actions will impact. A driver who quits and causes problems only makes the employer more cautious in the future. Having been “tutored” by malcontented drivers, company owners find ways to control, minimize and finally solve the problem. For example, new hires sign contracts during orientation, thereby agreeing not to abuse the equipment.

Also, consider that it’s not the dispatchers and company owners who clean up the mess you leave – it’s usually other drivers.

Imagine this scenario: first day on the job in a rainy, dark, cold, deserted lot. First delivery is at 7 a.m. the next day, but it’s just a few hundred miles: no sweat. But the assigned truck’s previous driver vandalized it to punish the employer. The cab and sleeper are a disgusting mess: rotting food, dirty laundry and trash everywhere, including a bottle of urine. There’s damage, too. Most notably, wipers are broken off, headlights are smashed, and running lights are gone, so the truck’s not legal.

The freight must get through. The new driver respects that, so he makes repairs, cleans, disinfects and finally moves in. But now his schedule is skewed; he’ll get short sleep that night and have to find time to make it up the next day.

Meanwhile the company owner, dispatcher, safety chief or whomever angered the quitting and destructive driver is warm, dry and sleeping soundly, unaware that he’s being punished.

Drivers who cause trouble when quitting also hurt other drivers in more general, long-term ways.

“It’s like a black eye to the industry as a whole,” Chapman says. “It seems like there are always a few who will mess it up for everybody.”

“There has to be an attitude change – not just with the drivers, but with everybody,” Chapman says. “If we want respect from all the people, we have to show respect for ourselves and each other first.”

That means not stooping to revenge or bad-mouthing.

“My grandmother says you always walk tall and hold your head up, no matter what anybody says or does,” says Birdseye, who grew up trucking with his father, a driver for 47 years and counting. Even with all this experience, Birdseye respects those with more.

“A lot of the newer OOs are so negative,” says former 20-year driver Russell Fullingim of Truckers Financial Services in Corning, Calif. “They hate drivers; they hate trucking.”

Every job has its nightmares. There are some rogue employers who talk safety by day, then turn a blind eye while dispatchers, shippers and receivers run drivers all day and night, or leave them sitting in strange towns for days, or fail to produce promised new trucks. These issues are serious, but one misdeed doesn’t justify another.

“The companies have their problems, but you have to be a professional,” Cook says. “A lot of times it’s corporate directives that determine what happens in the field. A lot of guys don’t take to that too well, and they leave on bad terms.”

“If you’re treating them good and they’re treating you dirty, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Chapman says. “If the issue won’t go away, then you have to move on.”

Earn self-respect by taking the very worst the job can throw at you with understanding, restraint and dignity. It pays off.

“You earn peace of mind when you quit on good terms,” Chapman says. “You know you did your best.”

Quitting With Class
Most carriers won’t begrudge a driver for moving on.

“A lot of times the employer doesn’t mind if the driver has a good opportunity somewhere else,” says Sebastian Cook, Allied Systems’ terminal manager in Jupiter, Fla. “They part as friends. Ideally, that’s what you want.”

Even if you’re unhappy, have the self-respect to show courtesy.

“If the employee has stated his issues about why he wants to leave, and they still can’t come to an agreement, then he has to move on,” Cook says. “In that case, it’s good to have an exit interview with the boss about how things might be done differently.”

After that, quitting is more about what not to do. Make it short and sweet.

“It’s pretty much real simple,” Cook says. “Generally you want to give two weeks’ notice. In that time, return anything that belongs to the company.”

Then just move on.
“You say, ‘hey, it just didn’t work out for me’,” Cook says. “‘I’ll use my energy to rebuild someplace else.’”

Some drivers say asking them to respect employers when quitting such high-stress, demanding jobs is asking too much, but the seasoned pros well know that respect is part of the professional trucker’s job description, even when it seems impossible. Most drivers have detailed files about self-control struggles.

“When somebody starts pulling my strings, I’m not a good guy to be around,” says owner-operator John Chapman, who isn’t shy about speaking up. “I have a short fuse. I try my best to keep my temper down because when it blows, it’s gone, and I have to re-evaluate my employment situation.”

If you feel yourself getting too angry, too often, maybe it’s time to move on before your frustration builds to the boiling point.

“Some jobs just aren’t going to work,” Sue Vinje company driver Tom Birdseye says. “But you have to learn from them. If you can’t, then get out.”

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