The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Dec. 21 determined that federal rest-break laws pre-empt California’s separate meal-and-rest-break requirements, handing a victory to trucking industry groups.
EDITORIAL: Time to end the debate.
The agency announced its decision in response to petitions submitted by industry representatives, including American Trucking Associations and the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association.
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After a 30-day comment period, which resulted in 700 public remarks, FMCSA determined that California’s rules are burdensome to drivers and decrease productivity.
“Drivers, consumers, job creators [and] everybody that shares the road with trucks are best served by reliable and consistent rules,” FMCSA chief Ray Martinez told Transport Topics. “The action that we take in making this determination prioritizes safety, prioritizes jobs and I think, most importantly, uniformity for trucks moving in and out of California. Making uniform rules is key. The industry needs that type of dependability.”
Excerpt from FMCSA ruling on meal-and-rest-break
Martinez said a hypothetical situation in which each state created a “patchwork” with different sets of meal-and-rest-break rules would be inordinately complicated. Moreover, he said that such rules strain the economy by reducing productivity.
“It is not an effective or fair way to regulate the industry,” Martinez said. “I think we’re making the right decision today.”
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Erika Monterroza, spokeswoman for California’s Department of Industrial Relations, said the agency is reviewing FMCSA’s decision and its options. The Department of Industrial Relations enforces laws regarding wages, hours and breaks, overtime and workplace safety and health.
ATA petitioned FMCSA in late September to determine whether California’s rules are pre-empted under federal regulations.
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Prior to the petition, ATA conducted a four-year legislative push to include language establishing such uniformity in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The act was signed into law Oct. 5 and did not include the language.
“This is a victory for highway safety, not trial lawyers,” ATA President Chris Spear said. “We were forced to ask [the Department of Transportation] and the Secretary for this important, common sense solution because congressional dysfunction and gridlock prevented Congress from reasserting itself — as it had in 1994 — as the primary arbiter of interstate commerce, despite bipartisan, bicameral support,” Spear said. “We hope today’s ruling will once and for all underscore the importance of a single, national standard for work and safety rules for professional drivers.”
Certain industry groups, including the American Moving and Storage Association, have applauded FMCSA’s decision. California Trucking Association CEO Shawn Yadon commended the agency, echoing Martinez’s admonitions against a patchwork system of different rules between states.
“We are very pleased that the FMCSA, in our opinion, got it right. The uniformity that we need to have within interstate commerce is vital,” Yadon said. “I believe it definitely will enhance safety and give those interstate commercial drivers that predictability and that awareness that, as they travel from state to state, they have those uniform rules in place.”
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ Local 2785 group and Everardo Luna, a driver represented by the group, filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Dec. 28 asking for FMCSA’s decision to be reversed. The Local 2785 chapter encompasses Teamsters in San Francisco and San Mateo Counties.
“Petitioners are adversely affected by this ruling,” the lawsuit document states. “Truck drivers represented by Teamsters Local 2785 and other individual truck drivers like Mr. Luna will lose their right to rest breaks and meal periods as provided by California law if the determination is not reversed.”
FMCSA officials have demonstrated willingness to hear from truckers on their concerns. The agency hosted several listening sessions over the past two months to discuss potential changes to hours-of-service rules.
An Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published Aug. 23 concerning various HOS rules garnered more than 5,200 comments, which FMCSA officials are sifting through.
FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez at MCE 2018. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Martinez said he hopes the agency will make a public determination on those comments early next year.
“They are comments from people that are really working this business,” Martinez said. “I’m really, really positive about this because the comments that we got were excellent.”
Martinez, who was confirmed to his post Feb. 13, has appeared at many industry events, including ATA’s Management Conference & Exhibition and the National Truck Driving Championships, which he said was a personal favorite of his.
In the coming year, he said he looks forward to working with and learning from all sectors of the industry.
“I am a regulator, but my job as a regulator is to listen to industry, to know exactly what is going on in reality so that we can work together with industry so we can reach our mutual goals of improved safety,” Martinez said. “There’s only one way we get there. That’s the only way we move the ball forward in a positive way and that’s to work together. I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to go into 2019 energized about working with everybody in this industry on those two areas — safety and improving efficiency.”