House passes amendment to disallow states from setting meal, rest breaks

An amendment passed Thursday would clarify Congress’ intention to have primary regulatory authority over interstate commerce and end the erosion of this authority by states who impose meal and rest break rules that run counter to national uniformity.

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives Thursday passed an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that would prevent states from creating a patchwork of meal and rest rules for interstate truck drivers.

The amendment was approved by a vote of 222-193, and reaction from both sides of the issue soon followed.

“The Truckload Carriers Association applauds Thursday’s vote and looks forward to dedicating our effort towards creating one single, national standard for requiring, measuring and tracking our drivers’ meal and rest breaks and ensuring that one federal entity is responsible for governing interstate commerce and improving upon our industry’s safety record,” said David Heller, TCA’s vice president of government affairs.

“Since our republic was founded, the federal government — not individual states like California — has had the power to regulate interstate commerce. Congress reaffirmed this for the trucking industry first in 1994 and again today by approving the Denham-Cuellar-Costa Amendment,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “Thanks to the leadership of Congressmen Denham, Cuellar and Costa for raising this critical issue, and to the bipartisan majority for affirming that the federal government has the last word on interstate safety rules.

The amendment was based on California’s meal and rest break initiative, but it has spread to other states and included a retroactivity clause that makes its effective date 1994 — or in essence — as if it had been enacted through the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (commonly called F4A) of 1994.

That means no one could file litigation for violation of state meal and rest break laws, as occurred after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July 2014 that F4A does not preempt the application of California’s meal and rest break laws for motor carriers because these state laws are not sufficiently “related to” prices, routes or services.

The California law requires employers to provide a “duty-free,” 30-minute meal break for employees who work more than five hours a day as well as a second “duty-free,” 30-minute meal break for people who work more than 10 hours a day. Other states followed, enacting their own break rules. Nearly 20 states have their own separate meal and rest break laws.

Trucking industry lobbying groups pushed for an end to what they see as “patchwork” legislation.

“Our industry’s trucks routinely cross state lines to deliver America’s food, fuel, medicine and other essential goods,” said ATA Chairman Dave Manning, president of TCW Inc., of Nashville, Tennessee. “Today’s vote is a key step in making sure the interstate supply chain continues to run safely and efficiently and without a hodgepodge of confusing and duplicative state rules.”

Opponents to the amendment say it would keep states from requiring carriers to give drivers paid meal and rest breaks and would protect carriers from being required to pay drivers for nondriving tasks. In a press release, Jim Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said this fight is not over.

“This union pledges to stand up for truckers and demand that they continue to have the ability to earn a fair wage with the rest break protections they deserve,” Hoffa stated.

“The Teamsters are disappointed in the House’s passage of this amendment which would halt the ability of states and localities to set any workplace rules for truck drivers in their jurisdictions. By prohibiting the enactment or enforcement of any law or regulation that imposes on interstate motor carriers any obligation beyond that covered in the so-called ‘hours of service’ regulations under federal law, they are hindering the rights of lawmakers at the state and local level to self-govern.

“There is no justification for approving language that strips truckers of minimum wage protections. This provision also overrules decades of court precedents confirming that truck drivers are entitled to basic workplace protections, paid sick days, and to be properly classified as employees.”



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