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Driver issuesLegal issuesRegulation

Carriers get positive ruling on sleeper berth wage compensation

New guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Labor on trucking wage compensation could provide millions of dollars in wage and litigation relief for employers while drivers could see cutbacks in pay.

The department’s Wage and Hour Division issued an opinion letter on July 22 changing its stance on employers’ pay obligations to drivers for time spent while drivers are in the sleeper berth.

Under prior guidance, the division interpreted the relevant regulations to mean that while sleeping time may be excluded from hours worked (and thus ineligible for pay), only up to 8 hours of sleeping time could be excluded in a trip 24 hours or longer, and no sleeping time may be excluded for trips under 24 hours, according to the Department of Labor.

But the wage division has found that this interpretation “is unnecessarily burdensome for employers and instead adopts a straightforward reading of the plain language of the applicable regulation, under which the time drivers are relieved of all duties and permitted to sleep in a sleeper berth is presumptively non-working time that is not compensable.”

The opinion letter noted, however, that there may be times where a driver who retires to a sleeping berth is unable to effectively sleep or use the time for other personal reasons – when required to remain on-call or must do required paperwork, for example. “In such cases, the time is compensable hours worked,” the division stated.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) welcomed the opinion, maintaining that it’s consistent with “decades-old” Department of Labor regulations as well as a long-held understanding by the trucking industry. The association pointed out that the letter also clears up confusion created by recent court decisions calling into question how trucking companies compensate for sleeper berth time.

One of those cases was filed last year against P.A.M. Transportation Services Inc. (NASDAQ: PTSI), in which a federal district court ruled that sleeping time above 8 hours constituted hours worked for which a driver should be compensated.

“ATA also commends the Department for making guidance like this available through opinion letters, which provide an opportunity for stakeholders to better understand their compliance obligations prospectively, rather than settling such matters only after the fact, through costly and wasteful litigation,” ATA president and CEO Chris Spear said in a statement.

Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, whose members include independent contractor drivers that stand to lose from the new interpretation of the law, said the opinion highlights the need for removing the truck driver exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“A primary duty of a truck driver’s job is waiting, but unfortunately they are paid by the mile and nothing for their time,” Spencer said in a statement. “If drivers were simply paid for all time worked, this issue would not likely have been brought to court.”

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John Gallagher, Washington Correspondent

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.

11 Comments

  1. Drivers are scare resource and should be treated so accordingly. Like resources, if they are abused, then one can expect to loose this resource, Not taking problem care of drivers are clear indications of poor management

    1. Who are you kidding.. they just tell the public there is a driver shortage and another million idiots sign up that are going to go homeless. It’s the ongoing game they’ve been playing for years and years. When you are smart and point it out, they will get rid of you and communicate amongst themselves to point you out to each other, to rid them of your existence. That is the way they work. We all know it. Then they cry to the Government and Media and explain that there is a driver shortage all over again…. When the only shortage in this industry is common sense and respect for hard working men and women.

  2. Carl, rather than striking, which wouldn’t accomplish anything on this matter since there are unique contracts for all shippers, motor carriers, etc., I would recommend to other drivers that they not drive for/contract to carriers that don’t value their time. You and I and OOIDA see eye to eye that too many in this industry don’t place enough value on a driver’s time and that needs to change. However, you can’t have drivers claiming sleeper berth time should be compensable and trying to sue carriers who then have to try to argue what time the driver was sleeping vs. what time the driver was “working”. The lawyers will say the driver was “always working”. Detention should be billed, collected and, at least the vast majority of it, paid to the driver.

  3. Yes it’s true that drivers spend a lot of time waiting. However when that driver is at a shipper or a receiver and spends two plus hours, the Plus hours are paid by detention time. So that last paragraph does not hold true. Drivers should get paid for the time that they are waiting that is out of their control

  4. Let’s not pay them sleeper time. Let’s not pay them for break time. Then let’s gather in an expensive hotel and whine and wail about the driver shortage.

  5. I would love to see the true results of all of these test. But have you noticed the companies who are requiring these test. I might be wrong and I do not think that I am but it’s always a certain culture of people who seem to wanna invade people’s privacy, with so called safety being the reason or for the good of the public. I’m referring to the communist types…they always seem to be behind legislation like this. If we’re going to test truck drivers, Why not test all people who operate vehicles. I’m sure the insurance groupies would just love that. Let’s test their sons, daughters, parents and especially their grandparents before alowing the to get behind the wheel after popping meds “AKA” drug users. Im not making any excuses for illegal drug users. But this is just rediculas. This lil goat in the room is shitting on everyone and soon most people in this industry will be out looking for new occupations

    1. Carl you are not far off…. I’ve been saying we should implement daily drug testing on the legislators, that keep putting these insane rules on us. Communists is an understatement. It’s their way or the highway is the way it looks to me. The fine amounts don’t reflect the earnings in the industry for any one of the many fines. They think we have money when we are all broke. They see us as a cash cow constantly, when we don’t have two dimes to rub together. yet the fine amounts the legislators put forth, you’d think we did. I for one am tired of being discriminated against as a truck driver. Making us submit to random drug tests every time they see fit when the public isn’t even made to submit to them after causing huge accidents is a bit to one sided for my liking! Why not make all the officers submit to drug tests that charge us with these insane fines? It’s become insane. I don’t do narcotics of any form and I think we should expect the same of not only our office staff, our owners and our police services and regulatory commissions, as well as the motoring public. It would sure clean up many of the problems on the road and in the industry real fast if they ever did it!

  6. I can’t speak for many drivers but I don’t we have large flat screens in our trucks and wifi. Pic is very misleading and gives the public a false sense of life on the road. It’s a tough way of life but being paid to sleep isn’t the answer. Raise rates, raise driver compensation. How much? Start at $o.80/mi. Based on experience and credentials it can increase from there. No more owner operators.

    1. Speak for yourself as an owner operator I make 2.75 per mile and up hauling specialized/ oversized I do not want to take a pay cut to .80 cpm

    2. I have a 32 inch flat screen and get Wifi through my phone service provider. Mind you it isn’t G5 network yet so movies are out of the question, and of course I do hit area’s with no service of course. But usually I can find a truckstop that I pay for wifi at as well.. same thing, you won’t be watching video that much but you can get by with sending emails, and going on facebook and whatever to talk to family. Life in the truck isn’t that hard really. The realities of it are you won’t likely have much of a home to go home too. The pay has become so low in many cases and isn’t increasing with the economy. The cost of living keeps increasing and the pay doesn’t. Even the owner operator who responded to you has probably been making $2.75 since 1992 and his cost of living has increased with his pay not increasing. The sad realities of the industry are that the owners in the industry are not keeping up with the day to day living costs that everyone in the industry have to experience. I have only been given a raise ONCE in the industry and that was after bugging them repeatedly for one. They raised my rate from 45 cpm to 50 cpm, but then of course terminated my employment a year or two later. I heard they re-hired at 45 cpm…. go FIGURE! The only people to blame for the lack of increasing pay is the owners of the companies themselves. They are the ones directly competing with each other and are the same ones making the big dollars enough to afford to buy olympic stadiums to donate to the Olympic Committee while feeding their employee’s chicken feed. There are endless rumors of company owners who buy every member of their direct and indirect family houses while their own employees are left homeless and penniless with no food on the table. This kind of an issue should be addressed in this day and age. The sad part is I don’t think it will be because of the immature mentality that tends to go hand in hand with the trucking industry.

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