Does federal law exempt truckers from certain state labor laws? Supreme Court could decide

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Updated Jan 8, 2015

Penske CNGAt the heart of a legal battle that could make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court is the question of whether state labor laws that interfere with prices, routes and services of the trucking industry apply to truck drivers, given now 20-year old federal legislation that says those state laws do not apply.

The Federal Aviation Administration Act of 1994 — which explicitly says federal law preempts state laws in such circumstances — could face a challenge in the country’s highest court this year, as Penske Logistics has filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to hear its appeal of a lower court’s decision.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that California law requiring employers to provide paid meal and rest breaks for drivers is not preempted by federal law, and therefore carriers must provide proper break opportunities for drivers.

Penske — and the American Trucking Associations — argue otherwise, saying the break law is exactly the type of state regulation the FAAA was meant to supercede.

The Supreme Court should decide within the next few months whether to hear the case, Penske spokesperson Randy Ryerson said.

The original case was brought in 2008 by three Penske Logistics drivers, who said Penske was required by California law to allow them paid breaks.

Unless the Supreme Court decides to hear Penske’s appeal, the Ninth Circuit’s decision will remain.