A new federal rule that implements large fines for carriers, shippers and brokers caught pressuring drivers to operate beyond federal safety regulations, such as when they’re out of hours, is now in effect, as is a new system for truckers to file complaints for alleged coercion instances with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The rule is intended to protect truckers from “threats of economic harm,” the rule states, such as loss of business, pay, miles, loads and the like, if drivers don’t comply with entities trying to push them to operate when they legally can’t.
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The rule, which took effect Jan. 29, sets hefty fines for entities caught coercing drivers — $16,000 a pop, a price the agency hopes is a coercion prevention measure in and of itself, beyond the federal rules actually prohibiting coercion.
However, though FMCSA says the “burden of proof” in coercion claims made by drivers is on the agency itself, truckers — the victims of such coercion violations — are the ones responsible for providing the “critical evidence needed to sustain the action against a carrier, shipper, receiver or [broker],” FMCSA writes in the final rule’s notice.
Truckers must also know the rule they’re being coerced to break and must object to a request for the coercion claim to be valid. From FMCSA’s explanation of the rule: “Motor carriers, shippers, receivers, and transportation intermediaries cannot commit coercion under the final rule unless and until they have been put on notice by the driver that he or she cannot meet the proposed delivery schedule without violating the HOS limits or other regulatory requirements. The purpose of that notice is, of course, to ensure that the driver is not coerced to commit such violations.”
The agency also isn’t in a position to remedy such coercion instances if proven. It only can fine the coercing entity, not order things back wages or punitive damages. But, the agency says, it plays to work with the Department of Labor and its Occupational Safety and Health Administration on coercion claims. The DOL does have the authority to do more than simply issue fines.
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FMCSA says complainants should provide their name, address and phone number in their filing, along with the name and address of the person who allegedly coerced them. They should also include: (1) “Provisions of the regulations that the driver alleges he or she was coerced to violate and (2) a concise but complete statement of the facts relied upon to substantiate each allegation of coercion, including the date of each alleged violation.”
The agency will then decide if the claim is “nonfrivolous” or otherwise. If it’s legitimate, it will turn the case over to a division administrator to pursue an investigation.