On the evening of Monday, June 10th, 2017, The U.S. House of Representatives proposed a new Department of Transportation (DOT) bill. This DOT appropriations bill, if passed into law, would do 2 things: 1) exempt livestock and insect haulers from compliance with the U.S. DOT’s impending Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate; and 2) prohibit states from requiring carriers to give drivers paid meal and rest breaks. The proposal also requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to adopt reforms to its Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) carrier safety rating system before proceeding with the Safety and Fitness Determination.
The new bill is part of the 2018 United States Appropriations – the committee that funds the DOT through the 2018 fiscal year. If Congress’s DOT funding bill is made law, the FMCSA would be required to adopt the National Academies of Science’s (NAS) recommended CSA reforms before issuing another Safety/Fitness Determination rule.
Most importantly, the “Federal Authority” provision in the bill reinforces the federal government’s authority in regulating truck drivers’ work schedules, originally established by the 1994 Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA). The meal and rest break provisions suggested in the bill are a part of a continuing effort at the national level to limit the state’s’ ability to regulate trucker’s work schedules. If adopted, states would be prohibited from requiring carriers to allow drivers paid meal and rest breaks. The language of the bill also protects carriers from being required to pay drivers for non-driving tasks and time, as some courts have ruled in favor of in recent years.
In the past, carriers have argued that they were exempt from such paid break requirements, given the protections set by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA) in 1994. However, a federal appeals court in 2014 disagreed and ruled that carriers must afford drivers specific breaks. In that case, the court ruled against the defendant, Penske Logistics, and the company was forced to pay a $750,000 settlement order.
The language in the House bill intends to protect carriers from such court-ordered payouts in the future. It also prevents carriers from having to comply with state-level laws that only seem to interfere with truck drivers’ daily 14-hour work limit. Carriers would also be protected from “additional obligations” if truck drivers “work to the full extent…as permitted” by federal hours of service (HOS) regulations. Though the bill’s language is indefinite, it does seem to protect the carriers from court-ordered payouts regarding drivers’ non-driving time tasks. (It’s interesting to note that Wal-Mart was ordered earlier this year to pay drivers $60 million in back pay for non-driving time.)
Opponents of the bill and its language argue that the proposed provisions would completely abolish driver pay reform at the state level, which has been continuously evolving for years.
All of that being said, for the bill to actually become law, it must be passed by the House and the Senate AND signed by President Trump. The Senate has not yet released its version of the
DOT appropriations bill, though it does include the meal and rest break language in another piece of legislation – the FAA reauthorization bill, which managed to clear the Senate’s transportation committee last week.