Teamsters challenge FMCSA’s decision to pre-empt California break laws

February 7, 2019

Mark Schremmer


Arguing that California’s meal and rest breaks rules improve safety, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is challenging the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s decision to pre-empt state law.

The Teamsters filed a petition against the FMCSA and the U.S. Department of Transportation on Feb. 6 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The lawsuit requests the court to reverse the decision in its entirety.

“We are standing united in opposition to this decision,” James P. Hoffa, Teamsters general president, said in a news release. “Highway safety for Teamster members and the public must never be put at risk just so that transportation corporations can eke out a little more profit.”

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

Teamsters Local 848, which represents about 7,200 workers in Southern California, is also a petitioner in the lawsuit.

“A safe driver is a driver who can take 10 minutes off after four hours of driving, and who can have something to eat during a long work day,” said Eric Tate, secretary-treasurer of Local 848. “The industry would rather see drivers never take a break or attempt to eat while driving. This will cause accidents, major and minor. California has held a higher standard for years, and it shouldn’t be taken away.”

The petition includes several examples of truck drivers who would be affected by the pre-emption. One of the drivers mentioned was Charles Lepins, a member of Local 848, who works as a truck driver for Sysco Corp. The petition said Lepins works 12 to 14 hours per day and 60 to 65 hours per week delivering foods and other goods to hospitals and schools.

“Truck drivers keep our economy running,” Lepins said. “I deliver food to hospitals and schools, loading and unloading up to 40,000 pounds in a single run. California’s meal and rest break laws protect drivers like me from drowsy driving and injury, and they keep our roads safe.”

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’s law is incompatible with federal regulations and causes a disruption in interstate commerce,” according to an FMCSA news release.

While OOIDA doesn’t necessarily support California’s meal and rest break laws, the Association said ATA showed no reason why FMCSA should have reversed its previous decision on the issue.

“More than a decade ago, FMCSA rejected a similar petition that was submitted to FMCSA,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer said. “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.”