House approves Denham amendment; next hurdle is the Senate

February 27, 2018

Greg Grisolano

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In a vote that mostly fell along party lines, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration authorization that would threaten truck driver pay.

The so-called Denham Amendment, named for Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., would pre-empt any state laws that address compensation and benefits for drivers, such as California’s laws about meals and rest break provisions.

The amendment passed by a vote of 222-193, with 12 Republicans joining 181 Democrats in opposition. Two of the co-sponsors of the amendment – Henry Cuellar, of Texas, and Jim Costa, of California – are also Democrats. After passing the House on Friday, the bill awaits reconciliation with the Senate version, where the Denham amendment could still be scuttled.

“We’re disappointed that the amendment passed yesterday,” said Collin Long, OOIDA’s senior director of legislative affairs. “We still have a lot of game to play, though. At this point, we have to turn our attention to the Senate and focus our efforts on knocking the language out of the aviation package in there.”

Long pointed out that time is getting short for action in the Senate ahead of the midterm elections in November. That could affect how much time is available for the Senate to take up the complex aviation bill.

“We’re not waiting to see what happens,” he said. “We know the Senate is our next battleground on this front.”

Earlier this week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent out a letter asking her fellow Democrats in the House to oppose the amendment, saying it would erode “a key safeguard against fatigue, crashes and vehicular deaths.” Pelosi’s letter also characterized the amendment as “a handout to special interests and big corporations who have lobbied for its passage” such as the American Trucking Associations.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association issued its own Call to Action for members on Wednesday, asking them to contact their lawmakers and oppose the amendment.

If Amendment No. 79 is enacted into law, motor carriers would only have to pay drivers on a piecework or per-mile basis. Gone could be any chance at pay for detention time, safety inspections, paperwork, or any other work-related tasks that do not involve racking up miles. It could also gut the ability of states to individually address these sorts of issues, according to OOIDA.

Denham has attempted to get the amendment enacted numerous times over recent years, always meeting with opposition from truck drivers concerned about the unintended consequences of the overly broad language.

OOIDA’s Call to Action asks truck drivers to call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 or visit FightingForTruckers.com and sending a letter in opposition to Amendment No. 79 to HR4 through the tools available there.

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Greg Grisolano joined Land Line in 2013. He was formerly a reporter for the Joplin Globe. He brings business writing and photography skills to Land Line, and has a passion for finding and telling stories about the people who make up the trucking industry.