Supporters hopeful amendment will standardize meal-and-rest break rules

 California is applying meal and rest break provisions to truck drivers that are in conflict with federal hours-of-service regulations, according to many in the industry. That is why so many are pushing to include the Denham Amendment in the FAA authorization bill. ( Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Flapane )

California is applying meal and rest break provisions to truck drivers that are in conflict with federal hours-of-service regulations, according to many in the industry. That is why so many are pushing to include the Denham Amendment in the FAA authorization bill. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Flapane)

The so-called Denham Amendment would prevent states from setting their own rules for breaks for interstate truckers

For several years, many in the trucking industry have pushed legislation that would standardize meal and rest breaks for truck drivers in the country, preventing individual states from setting their own rules.

Under federal hours-of-service regulations, drivers are required to take a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving. In California, though, those drivers must stop for a 30-minute break after five hours. Potentially, this could require truck drivers to take two 30-minute breaks in an 11-hour driving day when in California. 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 5 hours, and at the minimum, creates a level of confusion as to which rule to follow.

Current legislation, known as the Denham Amendment after U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), would standardize the meal and rest break provision for truck drivers by requiring all states to follow the federal hours-of-service guidelines.

“The argument [for it] is we work under one set of federal regulations, and that is hours of service,” David Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), tells FreightWaves. “The goal is to make the rules uniform. If every state had different meal and rest break [rules] drivers would have to contend with each state’s rules” which leads to confusion.

Heller explains that a driver moving through three states could theoretically face three different rules. In that case, which rule prevails?

Supporters are trying to get the amendment included in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, an omnibus bill that will would authorize funding for the FAA. Heller says he is hopeful the Denham Amendment will be included in the final bill, which could be up for a vote as early as today.

“We always seem to get to this point and it gets attached to an omnibus bill and then [at the last minute] it gets stripped out,” he says.

A similar provision is in the Senate version of the bill.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent out on Tuesday, Denham and co-sponsor Henry Cuellar (the amendment’s official name is the Denham/Cuellar/Costa Amendment) urged members of the House to vote in favor of the amendment.

“Since 1994, motor carriers operating in interstate commerce have followed a uniform set of rules and regulations across all states,” the letter says. “However, in recent years and in direct conflict with the intent of Congress, some courts have imposed state meal and rest break laws on interstate motor carriers, creating a dangerous and confusing two-tiered system of rules that conflicts with the existing uniform federal standard for interstate commerce.

“This judicial interpretation has led to a situation where state meal and rest break laws are being used to fuel litigation, impairing the safe and efficient movement of interstate goods,” it goes on. “This troubling situation has been exacerbated by a 2014 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which contravened numerous district court decisions from multiple jurisdictions ruling that the law enacted by Congress in 1994 preempts states from regulating motor carriers.”

The amendment has a broad coalition of supporters from the industry with more than 30 different associations and 48 state trucking organizations expressing their support for the amendment.

Not everyone, though, believes the amendment is a good idea. Allen Smith, a self-described truck driver advocate who runs the website AskTheTrucker, has been pushing hard to get drivers to stop the amendment.

“There are states who have laws and believe that truckers should be paid for all their work, in addition to their miles driven,” he writes, adding that the original 1994 FAAA Act was “not intended to regulate state labor laws, which is what ATA is contesting.”

Smith says the amendment is designed to preempt state rights, some of which require paid rest breaks, he contends.

The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) is also against the current amendment, explains Norita Taylor, spokesperson.

“We oppose the amendment currently proposed for the FAA bill,” she tells FreightWaves. “It is written too vaguely and would block future efforts to expand driver pay and ensure truckers are fairly compensated for all the time they work.”

Heller insists the language and purpose of the amendment is not designed to limit driver pay, but rather to simplify the rules and ensure there is no confusion on the part of drivers and/or fleets.

Supporters of the amendment point out that it does not prevent states from setting working conditions for intrastate drivers, only interstate drivers, who are governed by USDOT jurisdiction. The amendment simply addresses the fact that California is applying “general employment laws” to truckers involved in interstate commerce, a domain that is overseen by Congress.

The amendment also does not prevent a driver from taking a break should they need one, and, supporters point out that should a driver face retribution for taking a break, there are federal whistleblower and coercion rules in place to protect them.

Heller notes also that the amendment does not include “piece-rate” language specifically so as not to impact driver pay.

“It is not an effort to cut driver pay whatsoever,” he says. “It is an effort to get uniform standards and eliminate unnecessary litigation.”

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