Teamsters, California file lawsuit challenging FMCSA’s ruling on California breaks

Updated Feb 14, 2019
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The Teamsters Union has become more aggressive in its fight against the U.S. DOT’s late-December decision to exempt motor carriers from California labor laws that require period meal breaks and paid rest breaks. Last week, the union filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s decision. The move follows a petition filed by the union in December asking for a review of the agency’s decision.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the California Labor Commissioner’s Office also filed suit against FMCSA last week, stating federal law does not pre-empt California labor laws.

The lawsuits were filed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals — the same court that ruled in 2014 that carriers must comply with California’s break laws and provide drivers with the mandatory meal and rest breaks. However, the 9th Circuit judges in part based their decision on the U.S. DOT’s stance at the time. The DOT filed a brief with the court arguing that carriers should have to comply with

The U.S. DOT has since changed its stance, partially due to a change in administration in the White House.

California laws require employers to provide employees with paid 10-minute rest breaks every four hours and an unpaid 30-minute meal break every five hours. The rules had been a sticking point for years with certain segments of the industry. Chiefly, the American Trucking Associations and the Western States Trucking Association argued the rules conflicted with federal hours of service regs and, according to federal law, should not apply to interstate motor carriers.

However, the 9th Circuit appellate court in 2014 ruled in the case of Dilts v. Penske that carriers are obligated to provide the breaks.

ATA and WSTA lobbied for years for Congress to act and exempt carriers, but those efforts ultimately came up short. ATA then turned to the U.S. DOT last year. They filed an exemption request with the U.S. DOT, who sided with ATA in December and issued a ruling waiving California’s regs for interstate motor carriers.

The Teamsters in their lawsuit argue the rules enhance safety and driver wellbeing. Becerra and the California Labor Commissioner’s Office’s lawsuit argue that FMCSA’s authority to pre-empt state standards is limited to laws and regulations on commercial motor vehicle safety, and the provisions targeted by FMCSA and ATA are broad workplace regulations that are not laws and regulations on commercial vehicle safety.