Meal and rest break fight continues as California, Teamsters ask 9th Circuit Court to overturn FMCSA decision

California and the Teamsters have both filed suit against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety asking the court to overturn the agency’s decision to exempt truck drivers from California’s meal and rest break rules. ( Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves )

California and the Teamsters have both filed suit against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety asking the court to overturn the agency’s decision to exempt truck drivers from California’s meal and rest break rules. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

California and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) have both filed petitions with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit challenging the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) December announcement pre-empting the state’s meal and rest break rules for interstate truck drivers.

“It is well within a state’s rights to establish standards for the welfare of our workers,” said state Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “Truck drivers, like every other person protected under California’s labor laws across hundreds of different industries, deserve adequate meal and rest breaks.”

California filed its petition on February 7, just one day after the Teamsters filed a similar petition with the same court.

“We are standing united in opposition to this decision. Highway safety for Teamster members and the public must never be put at risk just so that transportation corporations can eke out a little more profit,” said Jim Hoffa, IBT General President.

The petitions ask the court to overturn FMCSA’s decision and reinstate enforcement of California’s meal and rest break provisions.

California’s regulations require truck drivers to stop for a 30-minute break after five hours. Opponents argued that the rule violated federal hours-of-service regulations that require a 30-minute break after eight hours of driving. Potentially, this could require truck drivers to take two 30-minute breaks in an 11-hour driving day when in California, they said. It has also led to a number of class-action lawsuits by truckers who said they have not been allowed to take their 30-minute break after five hours, and at the minimum, created a level of confusion as to which rule to follow.

In September, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) petitioned FMCSA, asking the agency to declare the enforcement of California’s meal and rest break provisions illegal under federal law. ATA argued that existing federal law prohibits individual states from enforcing commercial motor vehicle safety laws or regulations that the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation has determined to be preempted.

“In deciding whether a state law or regulation will cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce, the Secretary may consider the cumulative effect on implementation of the state law or regulation and all similar laws and regulations of other states,” a notice provided by FMCSA read.

In December, following comments to the petition, FMCSA determined that the enforcement of the California law did indeed infringe upon federal law and therefore could not be enforced on interstate truck drivers.

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“Safety is FMCSA’s top priority and having uniform rules is a key component to increasing safety for our truck drivers,” said FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez in a statement at the time. “During the public comment period, FMCSA heard directly from drivers, small business owners and industry stakeholders that California’s meal and rest rules not only pose a safety risk, but also lead to a loss in productivity and ultimately hurt American consumers.”