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STATEMENT OF JOHN LANNEN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE TRUCK SAFETY COALITION, ON RELEASE OF DRAFT HOUSE FY 18 THUD APPROPRIATIONS BILL

ARLINGTON, VA (July 11, 2017) – The Truck Safety Coalition is vehemently opposed to a provision included in the recently released draft House Fiscal Year 2018 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill that would pre-empt certain state laws governing truckers’ meal and rest breaks, effectively barring states from applying rules that exceed federal standards for truck driver pay and rest. The language would essentially dock the pay of truck drivers by attacking state laws that protect their pay during bathroom or lunch breaks, or when performing necessary activities like loading or unloading a truck.

As it is written, this provision has potentially far-reaching consequences that would not only strip a state of its ability to impose safety rules that go beyond federal standards, but would also prevent that state from permitting a pay structure other than mileage pay. Given that states can set their own speed limits, which relate to safety, as well as their own minimum wage laws, which relate to how employees are paid, this provision is not just out of place in a Federal appropriations bill, it is out of place as part of a Federal law that respects state rights and the 10th amendment.

To make matters even worse, the same people who claim this language will “get rid of patchwork of state laws,” are using the same bill to allow North Dakota to raise the truck weight limit to 129,000-lbs on it Interstate roads, even though the Federal weight limit for trucks is 80,000-lbs. The authors of this bill cannot reconcile the federalist nature of preventing a state from going above and beyond a federal minimum relating to meal and rest breaks, and then claim that one should be allowed to permit heavier trucks on its Interstate roads, which are paid for with federal tax dollars. It is evident that the lawmakers who wrote this legislation are more concerned with satisfying select interest groups. Opposing meal and rest breaks for truck drivers as well as supporting heavier trucks is neither pro-safety nor pro-truck driver.  

Enacting this provision would also invalidate a decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned a lower court’s decision and stated that motor carriers are not exempt from California state law. The California law in question requires all workers to be compensated for all hours worked at the agreed upon minimum rate. It also mandates employers to give employees a 30-minute meal period within the first five hours of work, a second 30-minute meal period when their workday exceeds ten hours, and a 10-minute rest period every four hours. As a result of the Circuit Court’s decision to uphold this California law, many truck drivers have joined together to file class action lawsuits for back pay, with their intent being to require their employers to create an environment that ensures drivers can take their breaks without feeling discouraged or fearing retaliation.

Clearly, there is a need for these truck drivers to take action to change their work environment and upend the culture of coercion. USA TODAY recently published an in-depth investigative report about the maltreatment of port truck drivers in California, who work grueling schedules and are paid incredibly low wages. The report details how “trucking companies force drivers to work against their will – up to 20 hours a day – by threatening to take their trucks and keep the money they paid toward buying them,” and how “bosses create a culture of fear by firing drivers, suspending them without pay or reassigning them the lowest-paying routes.” Despite these revelations, this provision to take away meal and rest breaks indicates that its authors, as well as those who support its inclusion in this appropriations bill, care more about special interests than they do about truck drivers or truck safety.

Link to USA TODAY Article: https://www.usatoday.com/pages/interactives/news/rigged-retail-giants-enable-trucker-exploitation/  

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