The long-anticipated Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill is coming up for a vote today in the House of Representatives after the House and Senate reached agreement on its contents. What it does not include is the controversial meal-and-rest break provision that the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and other industry forces were seeking.
The provision, nicknamed the Denham Amendment in the House version, would mandate that states could not override federal worker rules, in this case, it would prevent a state from requiring a truck driver to take a break after 5 hours of work as is required in California when federal law requires a break after 8 hours.
The bill, H.R. 302, could be passed by the House today before it goes to the Senate for final approval. The reauthorization would last 5 years. The FAA bill has been a favorite of supporters as a mechanism to get the provision implemented, but repeated attempts have resulted in no luck so far.
Currently, states can override federal law, which requires drivers 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.
Teamsters’ General President Jim Hoffa applauded the move.
“Removing this onerous trucking provision which had no place in an FAA bill in the first place allows the House and Senate to now consider the bill on the merits of its improvements to our nation's aviation system,” Hoffa said in a statement. “Congress was smart to realize that no one wants to ground a FAA bill in order to attack truck drivers.”
David Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association, previously told FreightWaves that confusion could disrupt the industry if each state was allowed to set its own rules.
“The argument [for it] is we work under one set of federal regulations, and that is hours of service,” he said in an interview this spring. “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.
According to a “Deal Colleague” letter sent earlier this year to drum up support, U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), who the amendment was named after, cited the number of lawsuits as a justification for the rule.
“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,” he wrote. “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.”
Supporters of the amendment argued that it only impacted interstate drivers, and not intrastate drivers, giving states leeway to continue to set their own regulations.
ATA President Chris Spear, speaking at the group’s Economic Summit earlier this month, suggested the fight to get the provision implemented would not end with the FAA bill.
“This is not the United States of California,” Spear said. “In two weeks, we will know whether we will win or lose. If we are not successful, we will move to the Department of Transportation and file” for changes, hinting at a court challenge.
Spear said the California provision that requires a 30-minute break for every 5 hours of work has cost the industry $500 million in court settlements and pending litigation.
“Everybody is feeling this pain [big and small] all for the benefit of trial attorneys,” he said.
The Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) had also opposed the amendment.
“We had serious concerns that the amendment was far too broadly written and so we are pleased that it is not included,” OOIDA spokesperson Noria Taylor said in a statement to FreightWaves.
Among the concerns OOIDA cited in a fact sheet is the use of the phrase “or imposing any additional obligations on motor carriers” in the bill. The phrase, OOIDA argued, is overly broad and could lead to “blanket federal preemption for any issue that a state might want to address,” the fact sheet argued.
Related to the Denham Amendment was a move last week by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The agency, which operates under the DOT, exempted carriers hauling hazmat loads and explosives from California’s meal and rest break regulation.