Owner-operator status challenged
Federal and state entities increasingly are questioning if owner-operators should be regarded as employees for tax purposes and reviewing legislation to restrict their classification as independent contractors.
This year, federal and state governments introduced bills to require port drivers be categorized as company employees and expanded programs cracking down on misclassifying employees as independent contractors. Labor unions support the bills, and, seeking to be treated as employees, owner-operators have filed lawsuits.
In January, New York’s assembly referred companion bills to committees that effectively would end independent contractor classification for owner-operators. The bills, A8997 and S6267, would prohibit leasing an owner-operator if his work represents the same service as the company’s, say the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the American Trucking Associations, which oppose the measures.
Washington state and New Jersey are considering classifying port drivers as employees, not owner-operators.
Last October, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 459, which penalizes employers who willfully misclassify workers as independent contractors. As the immediate past state attorney general, Brown pursued judgments over misclassification in a handful of industries, including trucking.
For the third consecutive year, Congress is considering banning owner-operators in ports with the Clean Ports Act. H.R. 572 was referred to committee with 58 co-sponsors Feb. 10, while its companion bill, S.2011, went to committee in February with five co-sponsors.
— Jill Dunn
ATA, TCA, others sue on hours rule
In a March 15 lawsuit filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the American Trucking Associations contends the hours of service rule issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is unsuitable.
ATA questioned changes to the restart provision requiring it include two consecutive periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.; limits on the frequency with which a driver may use the restart; the requirement that a mandatory 30-minute break from driving also exclude all other on-duty activity; and narrowing certain exceptions to drive-time regulations for local delivery drivers.
“While we had hoped to avoid litigation by providing FMCSA with overwhelming evidence that their rulemaking process and proposals were flawed, now that we have challenged this regulation, we will do so vigorously and vocally,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer.
The Truckload Carriers Association, joining ATA’s litigation, filed a motion to intervene. TCA said its executive committee decided March 14 to file the motion. “Since the 2004 hours-of-service rule went into effect, we have experienced a year-over-year decline in crashes and fatalities involving commercial vehicles on our nation’s highways,” said Chris Burruss, TCA president.
Highway and Auto Safety, Public Citizen and the Truck Safety Coalition on Feb. 24 also sued to overturn FMCSA’s latest rewrite of the hours-of-service rule. The groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit. The new suit marks the second challenge to the revised rule.