On December 21st, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) gave a huge Christmas present to large carriers if the form of overruling California’s meal and rest break (MRB) provisions. The move hobbled driver pay reform efforts. Less than one week later, the first legal challenge to the decision has been filed.
California’s MRB provisions have long been a target for large trucking companies. They include rules which require that employees be given a 30-minute meal break for every five hours of work, and a paid 15-minute rest break every four hours. Since large trucking companies often pay only while a truck is moving, they ran afoul of MRB laws. Class action lawsuits brought by drivers cost mega-carriers millions.
Carrier groups including the American Trucking Association have been lobbying Congress to pass legislation which would force federal law to override state law – even in instances where state law was stricter. After years of falling short, the ATA decided to try bypassing Congress entirely. They turned to the FMCSA who issued a decision which told carriers that California law is “incompatible with federal regulations and causes a disruption in interstate commerce.”
Predictably, the ATA applauded the action, calling it a “common sense safety ruling.”
Driver advocacy groups didn’t feel the same way.
“Contrary to ATA’s assertion, California’s meal and rest break laws do not undermine highway safety, nor is there any validated data in their petition to justify said claim,” wrote OOIDA in response to ATA’s petition after it was first filed in September.
On December 27th, the Teamsters filed a lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asking for a review of the FMCSA decision.
“FMCSA’s suggestion that California’s meal and rest break rules negatively impact highway safety is ludicrous,” said the Teamsters in a press release. “This is simply a giveaway to the trucking industry at the expense of driver safety.”
Further, the Teamsters allege that the timing of the decision was suspect.
“The announcement was made at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, December 21, 2018 in what was clearly an effort to avoid public scrutiny of the corporate giveaway at the expense of working men and women.”