A federal district judge in Arkansas has ruled that a legal class of nearly 3,000 truck drivers is entitled to compensation for time in the sleeper berth even though the drivers were signed out as off-duty.
The lawsuit, filed in 2016 against P.A.M. Transport Inc., alleged that the Tontitown, Ark., motor carrier had violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the Arkansas Minimum Wage Law.
The drivers alleged that for any given 24-hour shift, Department of Labor regulations prohibit P.A.M. from excluding more than eight hours from compensation for time a driver spends in a truck’s sleeper berth.
A Freightliner sleeper berth. (TT File Photo)
P.A.M. disagreed, claiming that it is legally permissible to exclude all time from compensation that a driver spends in a sleeper berth, regardless of whether the amount of time exceeds eight hours.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks, calling the dispute a “somewhat tangled web of statutes, agency regulations, and agency interpretations of statutes and regulations,” denied P.A.M.’s motions to dismiss the case. Brooks said that while Department of Transportation regulations prohibit commercial truck drivers from being on duty more than 14 hours in any 24-hour period, DOT regulations have little, if any “bearing on the matter at hand.”
“The DOT regulations aim to make our roads safe, while the Department of Labor regulations aim to provide workers adequate compensation,” Brooks wrote. “The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration believes that some motor carriers that have not understood the difference may miscalculate the minimum wage, placing the motor carrier in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.”
“The judge in this case, through an idiosyncratic reading of a pair of Department of Labor regulations, arrived at the erroneous conclusion that motor carriers must treat all but eight hours of time spent in a sleeper berth as time that requires compensation under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act,” American Trucking Associations spokesman Sean McNally said. “Other courts have correctly recognized that, under those same regulations, time during which a driver is permitted to rest in the sleeper berth does not count as ‘hours worked’ under the FLSA. Thus, [the decision Oct. 19] stands as an outlier that hopefully will be corrected in due course.”
Brooks said there is no ambiguity on the point that employers must count as hours worked time employees spend riding in a commercial truck while neither sleeping nor eating. During this time an employee, “is working, and any work performed while traveling must be counted as hours worked,” he said.
P.A.M. did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the ruling.
P.A.M Transport ranks No. 71 on the Transport Topics list of the top 100 largest for-hire companies in North America.