WASHINGTON (AP) — Buried in the fine print of an aviation bill introduced in the House this week is a provision that would prevent states from requiring trucking companies to schedule more generous rest breaks for their drivers than the federal government’s minimum standard.
Laws in 22 states require longer or more frequent rest or meal breaks for workers than the Federal Motor Carrier Administration’s standard for truckers of a minimum half-hour break eight hours after reporting for duty.
The trucking industry challenged the state laws in court and lost. The industry lost again in December when a provision it backed to pre-empt the state laws in favor of the federal standard was taken out of a massive transportation bill at the insistence of Senate negotiators.
The provision has been quietly revived in a bill introduced this week by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to overhaul the Federal Aviation Administration.
Safety groups oppose the provision, which they say will be used by companies to pressure drivers to continue behind the wheel when they are tired or hungry.
Rich Pianka, acting general counsel for the American Trucking Associations, said federal law permits truckers to take breaks whenever they feel too tired to drive. The industry objects to the state laws because building in rest breaks on cross-country trips according to state-by-state requirements even if drivers don’t want to use the breaks disrupts planning, he said.
“It’s really not about safety,” Pianka said.
It’s really about money, according to James Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The trucking industry wants drivers to be behind the wheel as much as possible for the time they’re being paid, Hoffa said in a statement. In addition to rest breaks, the provision would also limit how truck drivers are paid, and not compensate them for safety procedures like performing pre-trip inspections, he said.
“It overrules the fundamental principle that all workers should be paid for the time they work,” he said.
Joan Lowy – Associated Press