FMCSA grants ATA petition to pre-empt California’s meal and rest break rules

February 2019

Mark Schremmer

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Saying that the California law is “incompatible” with federal regulations, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration granted petitions to pre-empt the state’s meal and rest break rules.

FMCSA announced its decision to grant the petitions from the American Trucking Associations and the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association on Dec. 21.

The pre-emption applies only to property-carrying truck drivers who are subject to federal hours-of-service regulations, meaning that nothing will change for California intrastate drivers who aren’t subject to federal hours-of-service regulations. The pre-emption also doesn’t apply to commercial bus or motorcoach drivers.

The agency’s determination is specific to the California meal and rest break laws.

“Safety is FMCSA’s top priority and having uniform rules is a key component to increasing safety for our truck drivers,” FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez said in a news release. “During the public comment period, FMCSA heard directly from drivers, small-business owners and industry stakeholders that California’s meal and rest rules not only pose a safety risk but also lead to a loss in productivity and, ultimately, hurt American consumers.”

California’s meal and rest break laws generally require employers to provide employees with an off-duty 30-minute break for every five hours worked and a 10-minute off-duty break for every four-hour period. The law has led to numerous class action lawsuits against trucking companies.

The Teamsters Local 2785, along with truck driver Everardo Luna, petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Dec. 27, asking the court to review the ruling and to reverse it in its entirety.

“Petitioner Everardo Luna is one of those truck drivers who works for a motor carrier which presently provides meal periods and rest breaks,” the court document stated. “Truck drivers represented by Teamsters Local 2785 and other individual truck drivers like Mr. Luna will lose their right to rest breaks and meal periods by California law if the determination is not reversed.”

ATA petitioned the agency in September, and the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association followed with a similar petition in October. ATA’s petition stated that the California laws weren’t practical for the transportation industry and that they undermine safety.

“By arbitrarily forcing trucks off the road more frequently, state rules like California’s also contribute to a critical shortage of truck parking, with serious safety implications,” ATA wrote.

The Teamsters said there is no evidence to conclude that the laws undermine safety.

“FMCSA’s suggestion that California’s meal and rest break rules negatively impact highway safety is ludicrous,” the International Brotherhood of Teamsters wrote in a news release. “The idea that providing a 10-minute break after four hours and a 30-minute meal break after five hours somehow makes the roads less safe is beyond comprehension. This is simply a giveaway to the trucking industry at the expense of driver safety.”

FMCSA rejected a similar petition from ATA regarding California’s break laws in 2008. At that time, the agency said ATA “provided no evidence that these breaks undermine safety,” and that the meal and rest breaks at issue were not “on commercial motor vehicle safety” and did not fall within the scope of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, which pre-empts states from enacting or enforcing policies “related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier.”

However, FMCSA granted the petition this time around.

“California’s law is incompatible with federal regulations and causes a disruption in interstate commerce,” FMCSA wrote in its news release. “In addition, the confusing and conflicting requirements are overly burdensome for drivers and reduce productivity, increasing costs for consumers. Additionally, safety issues have likely resulted from the lack of adequate parking solutions for trucks in the state.”

The petition received more than 700 public comments submitted to the Federal Register.

OOIDA submitted its comments in October, saying that ATA’s petition provided the agency no reason to reverse its previous decision on the issue.

“More than a decade ago, FMCSA rejected a similar petition that was submitted to FMCSA,” OOIDA wrote in comments signed by President Todd Spencer. “In its decision, the agency noted that California’s meal and rest break laws are not regulations pertaining to commercial motor vehicle safety, not unique to transportation, and the petition exceeded FMCSA’s congressional grant of authority. There is nothing in ATA’s petition that addresses these issues or would otherwise cause the agency to reverse its earlier decision.”

OOIDA said ATA’s motives are about driver productivity rather than safety.

With that said, OOIDA is not advocating similar meal and rest break laws to be added to the federal hours-of-service regulations.

“California’s meal and rest break laws should be carefully analyzed and resolved by Congress or the judiciary or both,” OOIDA wrote. “Unfortunately, ATA’s legislative strategy intentionally rejected a more measured and reasonable approach, thus denying this issue the thoughtful attention it deserves. To be clear, OOIDA doesn’t necessarily support California’s meal and rest break laws either. In fact, if FMCSA were to propose similar changes to the federal HOS regulations, OOIDA would be adamantly opposed.” LL

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.