Senate Committee Adopts Meal, Rest Break Provision

Fischer by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

A pre-emption provision meant to ensure nationwide uniformity of meal and rest break standards for motor carriers was attached to an aviation reauthorization bill a Senate panel approved June 29.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), the provision’s sponsor, said it would clarify the scope of Congress’ pre-emption authority regarding meal and rest break requirements. According to her amendment, it would ensure “a state, a political subdivision of a state, or a political authority composed of two or more states may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law relating to meal or rest breaks applicable” to certain employees.

“It’s important that we acknowledge trucking is a vital industry to this country. It brings us the products and moves the produce and products that we have across the country,” she said before the Senate Commerce Committee adopted the provision along party lines.

Industry groups, such as American Trucking Associations, have called for the pre-emption provision’s adoption. ATA emphasized it would clarify a requirement in a 1994 aviation law to block a California law signed in 2011.

ATA president Chris Spear applauded the committee’s efforts.

“Today, the Senate Commerce Committee took an important step toward recognizing that a uniform set of rules is vitally important to the movement of our nation’s interstate goods,” Spear said. “The trucking industry and its supply chain partners greatly appreciate Senator Fischer’s leadership, and applaud the committee for clarifying that the 1994 federal preemption covers state meal and rest breaks.”

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.

“Without uniform federal laws and regulations governing motor carriers, multiple layers of rules threaten to impair and impede the movement of freight throughout the country, creating a substantially burdensome and redundant system of rules for operation,” according to ATA.

Senators who opposed Fischer’s amendment to the aviation bill called for additional hearings to further evaluate the provision’s possible impact on the trucking industry.

The aviation measure, as amended, advanced to the Senate floor.

“This passenger-friendly aviation reform legislation improves safety and incorporates over 50 amendments offered by both committee Democrats and Republicans,” committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said. “In preparing for the future of aviation, our committee has acted to continue advancing unmanned aircraft systems and other aviation innovations while offering airline passengers new protections following recent incidents.”