Federal vs. state authority over truckers’ breaks and pay a growing debate in aviation bill

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Updated Feb 28, 2016

truckonhighway2As Congress’ work on a large aviation bill continues trudging along, a trucking-specific provision in the bill had its proponents and opponents sparring via press announcements on Thursday.

As reported previously by Overdrive, a measure in the House version of a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill would block states from enforcing mandatory paid meal and rest breaks for truckers and their carrier employers and prevent states from undertaking driver pay reform measures.

The inclusion of the provisions in the bill resurrect efforts previously included but ultimately removed from 2015’s FAST Act highway bill.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a prominent voice in Senate transportation-related work, held a press conference Thursday to decry the return of the measure, calling it a “mean-spirited provision” put forth by House Republicans. “This terrible anti-safety, anti-worker provision is a poison pill and has no place in the FAA bill.  It has no place in any bill, which is why we killed it in the highway bill,” Boxer said at her press conference.

The American Trucking Associations later Thursday issued a press release stating its support for the measure, citing the 1994 Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act as clearly stating that the federal government is tasked with regulating drivers’ hours and pay, saying a “patchwork of state laws [is] confusing and inefficient” for the trucking industry.

“A single set of consistent and fair regulations is essential to the trucking industry,” says ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “Language currently being discussed by Congressional leaders would ensure that drivers operate under a consistent set of break rules, whether that driver is delivering a trailer full of water to Flint, Mich., or picking up a load of avocados in Temecula, Calif.”

The provision, like in the FAST Act highway bill, was prompted by several court rulings in recent years upholding state-level enacted mandatory breaks for truckers. Notably, a 2014 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals — a court one step below the Supreme Court — upheld California’s enforcement on truck operators of its meal and rest break laws.

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The House version of the bill has cleared the committee level with the provision intact and is ready to be brought up for a vote by the full House. The Senate, meanwhile, has not produced its version of an FAA bill, but Boxer said she is urging Senate colleagues to exclude it from the upper chamber’s bill.

Other trucking-related groups who oppose the provision include the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Teamsters Union.

Click here to read prior Overdrive reporting on the FAA bill for more.