Provision Pre-Empting State Laws on Truckers' Meal Breaks Revived in House

An aviation reform bill that would pre-empt certain state laws regarding meal and rest breaks for truckers will be taken up by a House committee next week.

Included in a recently unveiled six-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration is language that would block states from enacting requirements related to meal and rest breaks for commercial vehicle drivers.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) included the provision, which is backed by American Trucking Associations, in a highway bill last fall. The provision ultimately was removed by the time President Obama signed the bill into law in December.

“This is the same issue, in fact it’s the same language as the Denham amendment that was part of the House highway bill — but that was stripped out in committee,” ATA acting General Counsel Richard Pianka told Transport Topics. He added, “It’s not merely a California issue. It’s about state law in general. California has been where a lot of the problems have arisen. It’s about meal breaks and rest breaks and state rules against piece-rate pay. It’s a potentially nationwide problem that we’re trying to solve.”

Senior Democrats on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have indicated the trucker language in the FAA bill would hinder its chances of passing. The committee has yet to schedule the markup on the bill.

The California meal-break law, signed in 2011, requires employers to provide a “duty-free” 30-minute meal break for employees who work more than five hours a day. The law also requires a second “duty-free” 30-minute meal break for those who work more than 10 hours a day.

ATA spokesman Sean McNally said that the bill’s trucking provision, found under Section 611, ensures drivers are subject to the uniform set of federal rules.

“Contrary to what some are saying, nothing in Section 611 eliminates breaks for truckers. In fact, federal law not only requires a break to split up driving time but also authorizes drivers to take a break whenever they are tired or fatigued," McNally said. "Nor does anything in Section 611 allow carriers to pay drivers less — on the contrary, it expressly requires that carriers paying drivers by the mile or by the load ensure that drivers receive as much or more than they would have been entitled to had they been paid by the hour."

He added that a recent survey by Public Opinion Strategies found that 75% of truck drivers support proposals such as Section 611 to help clarify that states cannot regulate driver breaks or change the way they are paid.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals by two trucking companies that mounted challenges to the California law requiring employers to provide meal breaks to workers. Penske Logistics had asked the court to overturn an appeals court decision upholding California’s meal-break law.


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