Federal regulators have determined that the state of Washington’s meal and rest break (MRB) laws are preempted for commercial trucks subject to federal hours of service (HOS) regulations.
In a decision to be published Tuesday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) granted a petition filed last year by the Washington Trucking Associations (WTA) requesting the agency make the determination.
FMCSA concluded that:
- Washington’s MRB rules are state laws or regulations “on commercial motor vehicle safety,” to the extent they apply to drivers of property-carrying CMVs subject to FMCSA’s HOS rules.
- Washington’s MRB rules are additional to or more stringent than FMCSA’s HOS rules.
- Washington’s MRB rules have no safety benefit.
- Washington’s MRB rules are incompatible with FMCSA’s HOS rules.
- Enforcement of Washington’s MRB rules would cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce.
“Accordingly, FMCSA grants WTA’s petition for preemption and determines that Washington’s MRB rules are preempted pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 31141,” the agency stated.
FMCSA received and considered 33 comments on the petition, with 24 commenters supporting preemption and nine opposing.
The National Industrial Transportation League (NITL), a major shipper group and one of the supporters of WTA’s petition, noted that the Washington’s break rules were similar to those of California’s, which FMCSA in December 2018 determined to be pre-empted under federal HOS rules. NITL points out that the two states require a 30-minute break for every five-hour work period and a 10-minute break for every four-hour work period.
Federal HOS rules – made more flexible earlier this year – require a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving time (instead of on-duty time) and allows an on-duty/not driving period to qualify as the required break.
“More significantly, the employer’s obligations with regard to breaks appears to be higher in Washington than in California by putting the onus onto employers to ensure the employee does no work during their breaks rather than having that be the responsibility of the employee,” NITL argued.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which opposed preemption, took issue with WTA’s assertion that Washington’s meal and rest break rules undermine safety “by artificially exacerbating the shortage of safe truck parking” making it more likely that drivers “will have to spend additional time looking for parking when they need rest, or resort to unsafe places to park.”
“In our experience, a much larger threat faced by truck drivers is that they are discouraged from taking rest breaks as allowed under federal law because they fear punishment from their employers if they don’t complete a run on time, or because they are paid by the mile and would rather push their bodies to the limit in order to earn extra pay,” the Teamsters Union asserted.
The union argued that Washington’s rules actually improve safety because they ensure drivers “have alternative legal protections in place helping to guard them against predatory companies who would rather pressure drivers into not taking a break, even when the driver feels it is physically necessary to do so.”
The Teamsters, which is appealing the FMCSA’s decision in the California case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, last week filed a petition with the court seeking a delay in oral arguments until after Joe Biden is sworn into office on Jan. 20.
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