ATA takes fight over California break laws to U.S. DOT

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With legislative efforts on the issue seemingly exhausted, the American Trucking Associations has turned its attention to the U.S. DOT in its quest to relieve carriers operating in California from the state’s meal and rest breaks laws.

A federal court in 2014 ruled that carriers must comply with the state’s break laws, meaning carriers must provide drivers with paid 10-minute rest breaks every four hours on duty and 30-minute meal breaks every five hours.

ATA and others have argued that the ruling presents a conflict with the 1994 Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (known as F4A), which says that the federal government’s regulations on trucking supersede any state-level laws. F4A dictates that any state laws that would alter “prices, routes or services” of motor carriers” are pre-empted by federal regs. In this case, ATA argues that federal hours of service regs supersede any state laws that conflict or have additional hours requirements.

ATA has asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to reassert that F4A trumps California’s regs and to exempt interstate carriers from having to comply with the breaks law. FMCSA is accepting public comments on ATA’s petition at this link until Oct. 29.

The 2014 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which involved drivers suing Penske Logistics for not providing the breaks, has caused a surge of lawsuits against carriers who operate in California, particularly small carriers based in the state, says Joe Rajkovacz, director of government affairs for the Western States Trucking Association. WSTA has also been active in trying to exempt carriers from California’s laws.

“What I see is $300,000 shakedowns by lawyers who get a hold of one of our members who has 15 trucks, and they end up paying that to make this go away,” Rajkovacz told Overdrive earlier this year. “Walmart doesn’t get much empathy, nor J.B. Hunt or Schneider. But it’s the small businesses that are really getting screwed by this.”

ATA’s petition, which asks for all carriers to be exempt from having to provide drivers with the state-required paid rest breaks every four hours and 30-minute meal breaks every five hours, is the broadest yet to be filed with the DOT.

WSTA filed a petition with FMCSA in July asking that carriers and drivers hauling oversize and overweight loads be exempt from the break laws. FMCSA has not yet issued a decision on that petition.

However, a sister agency to the FMCSA, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Agency, ruled in late September to exempt drivers hauling hazmat loads and explosives from the California regs. Though it was limited in scope, it was the first win for those seeking relief from the regulations.

ATA and WSTA have pressed for Congressional action on the issue in recent years. Several times, amendments to exempt carriers from California’s break laws were attached to transportation bills. However, the provisions were ultimately stripped from those bills before they were passed.

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