Paid to sleep? Drivers just need to be paid more

October 2019

Mark Schremmer

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A recent opinion letter from the U.S. Department of Labor stating that truck drivers don’t need to be paid for sleeper berth time if they are “completely relieved from duty” received quite a reaction from truckers.

An article about the letter published by LandLine.media on the evening of July 23 already had 100 comments on Facebook by the following morning.

Comments ranged from “A trucker is never completely relieved of duty unless they are at home” to “Why would you think you’re gonna get paid to sleep?”

But while everyone is busy arguing the merits of whether or not a truck driver should be paid for sleeper berth time, many important details get lost.

The opinion letter was in response to a question from an unnamed family-owned trucking company with 10 trucks.

The trucking company provided an example of a driver’s sleeper berth time for a week that broke down as follows:

  • Day 1: 2.82 hours
  • Day 2: 0 hours
  • Day 3: 4.75 hours
  • Day 4: 12.08 hours
  • Day 5: 11.67 hours
  • Day 6: 11.17 hours
  • Day 7: 7.47 hours

The company asked whether or not it would satisfy its federal minimum wage obligation under the Fair Labor Standards Act by paying the driver at least $404.84 (55.84 hours worked times the federal minimum wage of $7.25) for the workweek described above.

Of course, truck drivers are exempt from overtime pay, and most drivers’ wages are based on mileage.

So the Department of Labor responded that – based on the information provided – that paying the driver at least $404.84 would satisfy the company’s Fair Labor Standards Act minimum wage obligation.

Take a second to stop debating whether or not a truck driver should be paid for sleep time, and think about the skill required to safely operate a big rig across the United States.

Think about the time truck drivers are required to spend away from family. Think about all of the Little League games, birthday parties and other special moments missed because the driver was on the road.

Think about all of the regulations and responsibilities that come with being a truck driver. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations Handbook is filled with 700 pages’ worth of rules and regulations that truckers must know and follow.

Now, think about that total: $404.84. For nearly 56 hours of “work” and another 50 hours of time away from one’s home and family, a little more than 400 bucks is all a trucking company is legally required to pay the driver.

A fast-food worker, for instance, would get paid more than that. He or she would receive about 16 hours of overtime pay, and he or she would be able to sleep in their own bed each night.

Even if you paid the driver in the example for all of the sleeper berth time, those hours at minimum wage would still equal only $767.05. Multiplied by 52 weeks, that would come to a yearly salary of $39,886.60. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that would still be below the average truck driver’s salary of $43,680.

That’s why, instead of getting caught up in an argument about whether or not someone should get paid to sleep, we should all focus on making sure that a driver’s time is valued.

OOIDA President Todd Spencer said it best.

“While I think most drivers intuitively would believe that being paid while you sleep is a bit much, they also believe they should be paid for their time doing all of the other tasks that are part of trucking,” he said. “Because no value is placed on a driver’s time in most instances today, the work week for the typical driver can be twice as long as most other occupations. It’s hardly a surprise that retention is an issue.” LL

 

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, staff writer, 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 nearly two decades of journalism experience to our staff.