Teamsters challenge FMCSA’s decision to pre-empt California law

January 2, 2019

Mark Schremmer


As expected, it didn’t take long before FMCSA’s decision to pre-empt California’s meal and rest break rules received a challenge.

Just days after the agency granted the American Trucking Associations’ request to remove the requirement for interstate truck drivers operating under the federal hours of service, the Teamsters petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The Teamsters Local 2785, along with truck driver Everardo Luna, filed the lawsuit against the FMCSA on Dec. 27. The Teamsters’ opening brief is scheduled to be filed March 18.

“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.”

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 issued on Dec. 21. “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.

“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 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.”

The Teamsters also criticized FMCSA for the timing of the announcement, which was shortly before 5 p.m. on the Friday before Christmas.

“The FMCSA decision to bail out the trucking industry after it failed to achieve a legislative fix and numerous court rejections – and to do it late on a Friday before a holiday – smacks of political cronyism at its worst.”

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 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. “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.”

ATA’s 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.”

Doug Morris, OOIDA’s director of security operations, predicted shortly after FMCSA’s announcement that the decision would prompt lawsuits.

“You’re going to see all kind of litigation on this,” Morris said. “This isn’t the end.”