Bipartisan lawmakers have introduced a bill that would give America’s 2.19 million truck drivers the right to overtime pay.
A 1938 law guaranteed most American workers minimum wage and time-and-a-half pay if they worked more than 40 hours in one week. However, that law excluded truck drivers.
The bill introduced Thursday in both the House and Senate would nix the clause in the 1938 law that exempts motor carriers from providing overtime pay.
In a larger study of the American freight industry, the Biden administration urged Congress to enshrine drivers with overtime pay, according to the February 2022 document. A Democratic lawmaker introduced a bill to guarantee overtime pay for truck drivers in April 2022 but the legislation did not move forward.
In the most recent effort, two Democratic senators and a bipartisan team of two House representatives are pushing for the bill. It still faces a long road ahead, which includes committee review before potential votes in front of the full House and Senate. Control of Congress is currently split, with Republicans holding the House majority while Democrats run the Senate.
Bill would furnish truck drivers with more pay but squeeze employers
A group of academics wrote for Overdrive magazine last year that passing this bill would likely benefit truck drivers and challenge employers. Truck drivers, under current federal regulations, operate under strict hours-of-service requirements; they are not allowed to drive more than 11 hours in a 14-hour window and are capped at 70 hours of work in an eight-day period. They’re typically paid per mile.
Meanwhile, large trucking employers see massive turnover rates, which they typically attribute to larger lifestyle problems in the trucking industry. Others believe that this turnover rate, which averaged 94% at large truckload carriers from 1995 to 2017, is because drivers aren’t paid enough.
“There’s a retention problem,” Michael Belzer, Wayne State University professor, told FreightWaves last year. “It’s simply because you don’t pay these people. After you’re paid for working 40 hours when you really worked 65, you get to be unhappy. And that’s why they quit.”
Studies suggest that increasing pay for truck drivers reduces crash count. Reducing uncompensated work, like the hours that drivers often spend unpaid waiting at warehouses to get loaded or unloaded, also is a boon for safety and overall supply chain efficiency, studies suggest.
Trucker, safety advocacy groups embrace the bill, while American Trucking Associations slams it
Groups such as the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Teamsters union, Truck Safety Coalition and the Institute for Safer Trucking supported the bill in statements Thursday.
“Unbelievably, trucking is one of the only professions in America that is denied guaranteed overtime pay,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer said in a Thursday statement. “We are way past due as a nation in valuing the sacrifices that truckers make every single day. This starts with simply paying truckers for all of the time they work. With this discount on a trucker’s time, ‘big trucking’ has led a race to the bottom for wages that treats truckers as expendable components rather than the professionals they are.”
Meanwhile, the American Trucking Associations believes that the law, if enacted, would bring about “supply chain chaos and the inflationary consequences for consumers.”
“This proposal is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to boost trial attorneys’ fees,” ATA CEO Chris Spear said in a Thursday statement. “It would reduce drivers’ paychecks and decimate trucking jobs by upending the pay models that for 85 years have provided family-sustaining wages while growing the U.S. supply chain.”
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers earned a median annual salary of $49,920 in 2022. Data from the ATA, a lobbying group made up predominantly of large trucking companies, found that average pay for truckload drivers was about $70,000, before benefits, in 2021.