FMCSA faces another challenge for its decision to pre-empt California break laws

February 8, 2019

Mark Schremmer


One day after the Teamsters filed a case against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for its decision to pre-empt California’s meal and rest break laws, the California Labor Commissioner’s Office did the same.

The California Labor Commissioners’ Office and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed the petition on Thursday, Feb. 7 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Teamsters filed its case with the Ninth Circuit on Feb. 6. Both lawsuits contend that the FMCSA didn’t have the authority to pre-empt the law and request for the court to reverse the decision in its entirety.

“It is well within a state’s rights to establish standards for the welfare of our workers,” Becerra said in a news release. “Truck drivers, like every other person protected under California’s labor laws across hundreds of different industries, deserve adequate meal and rest breaks.”

FMCSA announced its decision on Dec. 21, saying that the California law is “incompatible” with federal hours-of-service regulations and that law caused a safety issue.

“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 pre-emption, which stems from a request made by the American Trucking Associations, 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 motor coach drivers.

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

California Labor Secretary Julie A. Su said the ATA petition shouldn’t have been granted and that a similar petition from ATA was denied by a previous administration.

“California takes seriously the health and welfare of truck drivers, who have a right to basic worker protections that include meal and rest breaks,” Su said. “Under the George W. Bush administration, the FMCSA had determined that these very same worker rights were not pre-empted by federal law. In this reversal, the federal government would have drivers work up to 12 hours a day without breaks. We refuse to sit back and allow workers to be treated that way in California.”

The California Labor Commissioner’s Office and Becerra filed comments opposing ATA’s petition before FMCSA made its decision to pre-empt the rules. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association also filed comments in opposition of ATA’s petition, saying ATA established no reason for the agency to reverse its previous decision.