ATA, OOIDA split on bills that would guarantee overtime for employee truck drivers

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Updated Dec 19, 2023

Each house of Congress introduced a bill Thursday that would guarantee overtime pay for employee truck drivers by amending the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which exempted employee truck drivers from the overtime-pay requirements otherwise placed on employers.

Previous versions of the bill, introduced in both the House and Senate, stalled out last Congress, but Thursday's effort represented the most bipartisan support yet, with a single Republican rep joining several Democrats among sponsors and cosponsors. 

Groups representing owner-operators and truck safety advocates quickly applauded the bill, but the American Trucking Associations denounced it as "a vote for chaos."

Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Representative Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ) introduced the bill in their separate houses.

ATA President Chris Spear called it a "thinly-veiled attempt to boost trial attorneys’ fees" that "would reduce drivers’ paychecks and decimate trucking jobs by upending the pay models that for 85 years have provided family-sustaining wages while growing the U.S. supply chain."

OTR drivers in truckload today "are earning nearly $70,000 on average plus benefits," Spear continued, and "wages across the board continue to rise at historic rates year-over-year." He went on to single out Yellow, which went bankrupt earlier this year amid a labor dispute. 

Spear called for money to fix the truck parking shortage, and asserted that the bill "would not affect owner-operators, who, as independent contractors, are not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act."

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association disagreed on that point, and all the other ones too. "Higher wages for company drivers would have the downstream effect of raising compensation of all drivers," an OOIDA spokesperson told Overdrive.

“Unbelievably, trucking is one of the only professions in America that is denied guaranteed overtime pay," said OOIDA President Todd Spencer. "We are way past due as a nation in valuing the sacrifices that truckers make every single day. This starts with simply paying truckers for all of the time they work. With this discount on a trucker’s time, ‘big trucking’ has led a race to the bottom for wages that treats truckers as expendable components rather than the professionals they are."

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The newly formed National Owner Operators Association said they had met with Representative Van Drew, the sole Republican backer, in September to express their support as well. 

The legislation is cosponsored by Senator and Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Bernie Sanders (I-VT.), as well as Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT.), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA.), and Ron Wyden (D-OR.). The House version of the legislation is cosponsored by Representative Mark Takano (D-CA).

The proposed legislation falls in line with the Department of Transportation's February 2022 Freight and Logistics Supply Chain Assessment, which called for the removal of the 1938 FLSA motor carrier exemption, among other things. 

[Related: 'It's unconscionable overtime pay not required': Operator to driver-compensation committee

Trucking researchers at the University of Arkansas have suggested overtime pay for drivers could reduce detention time and improve safety, something that Padilla echoed in his statement supporting the bill.

“America’s truck drivers are on the frontlines of our economy, enduring long hours away from home, and all too often, unpaid wait time at congested ports and warehouses," Padilla said. "That’s because for decades, truck drivers have been excluded from overtime pay protections. If truckers are forced to wait while on the job, they should be paid. This is not just a matter of fairness; it’s a matter of public safety. Experienced truckers are safer truckers, and better compensation will help more of them stay in the profession. It’s time we guarantee overtime for truckers.”

Truck safety organizations backed the bill as well.

"Repealing the overtime exemption for truck drivers is not just an economic issue, but also a safety issue," said Harry Adler, principal at the Institute for Safer Trucking. "Experienced drivers are essential to keeping our roads safe, but too many are leaving the industry because they are overworked and underpaid. The GOT Truckers Act would help to retain experienced truck drivers by providing them with the overtime pay they deserve. This would not only improve their quality of life, but also make our roads safer for everyone.”

That trucking has gone 85 years exempt from overtime pay was not lost on any of the bill's backers. 

“The FLSA Motor Carrier Exemption needlessly puts the lives of truck drivers and all roadway users at grave risk,” said Tami Friedrich, president of Truck Safety Coalition advocacy group. “The notion that it is acceptable for innocent people to die to avoid paying truck drivers for all their time is un-American. I am grateful to my home state Senator, Senator Padilla for taking action to eliminate this lethal loophole. The GOT Truckers Act will undoubtedly save lives and improve roadway safety for all.”

[Related: Overtime pay for truckers: Potential market benefits, drawbacks]

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