The American Trucking Association (ATA) has won a huge victory. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has ruled that California’s meal-and-rest break rules (MRB Rules) will be preempted by federal law, taking away the state’s right to put legislation in place that governs their own workers.
While the Hours of Service (HOS) rules put federal requirements in place that govern drivers’ rest breaks, additional rules are imposed by the state California on drivers operating within the state. These MRB rules have been incredibly unpopular with mega-carriers who have frequently faced costly multi-million dollar class-action lawsuits brought by drivers over their illegal pay practices.
To try and curb those lawsuits, on September 24th, ATA petitioned the FMCSA to preempt the California statutes using federal regulations. Less than 3 months later, on December 21st, the FMCSA announced that it was siding with ATA.
In their ruling, the FMCSA stated that CA MRB Rules “are incompatible with the Federal hours of service regulations” and that they “cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce.”
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said that the ruling comes “in response to widespread concern from drivers, concerned citizens, and industry stakeholders.”
But advocates of driver pay reform have pointed to MRB Rules as one way to force carriers to pay drivers at least minimum wage for all work performed. MRB Rules have helped drivers demand employee benefits, claw back withheld paychecks, and earn wages for non-driving tasks including waiting to be loaded or unloaded.
ATA’s efforts to handle this with a bill passed through Congress have failed multiple times in recent years, so instead they turned to the DOT. Whether the FMCSA decision will be challenged in the courts is yet to be seen.