WTA seeks preemption from state break laws

November 6, 2019

Mark Schremmer

|

The Washington Trucking Associations hopes the FMCSA determines that the meal and rest break rules in its state are preempted by federal law.

The WTA petitioned the agency in April, requesting a determination that Washington’s meal and rest break rules, as applied to drivers of commercial motor vehicles subject to hours-of-service regulations, are preempted. In response, FMCSA published a notice and request for comments regarding the petition. The public has until Nov. 8 to comment.

Washington law requires employers to provide employees with a meal period of at least 30 minutes for every five-hour period and a 10-minute break for every four-hour work period.

California decision

The rules are similar to California’s meal and rest breaks laws, which FMCSA said in December 2018 were preempted.

The determination, which was specific to California’s meal and rest break laws, said that the California rules were “incompatible” with federal regulations.

“Safety is FMCSA’s top priority and having uniform rules is a key component to increasing safety for our truck drivers,” then-FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez said when the California determination was announced. “During the public comment period, FMCSA heard directly from drivers, small-business owners and industry stakeholders that California’s meal and rest break rules not only pose a safety risk but also lead to a loss in productivity and, ultimately, hurt American consumers.”

WTA’s take

WTA believes FMCSA should reach a similar determination, saying that, like California’s requirements, the Washington meal and rest break rules are “regulations on commercial motor vehicle safety,” and they are “additional to or more stringent that FMCSA’s rules.”

“Given the similarity between Washington and California’s meal and rest break rules, the agency’s analysis of California’s rules in its recent preemption order applies equally to Washington’s,” WTA wrote in its petition.

Comments

As of Nov. 6, only 12 comments had been submitted to the Regulations.gov website.

The National Conference of State Legislatures wrote in opposition to WTA’s petition.

“The state of Washington meal and rest break law, passed in 1976, referenced by the WTA petition is not a law specific to the motor carrier industry, or even the transportation industry, but rather an employment law in the Washington labor code, applying more broadly to employees rather than just commercial drivers,” the NCSL wrote.

“State laws should never be preempted without substantial justification, compelling need and a broad consensus. Further, states should not be undercut through the regulatory process. It is not acceptable for unelected federal agency officials to exercise legislative authority in the guise of regulation and to preempt the decisions of elected officials in legislatures of the sovereign states.”

Several others responded in favor of WTA’s petition. Oak Harbor Freight Lines, based in Auburn, Wash., said the Washington rules place an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce.

“Over the course of a typical 10-hour workday, they require an extra 30-minute lunch break and two additional 10-minute rest breaks,” the trucking company wrote. “That time alone adds nearly an hour to the workday, and that does not even include the often difficult challenge of finding a safe place to park to take a break.”

Comments may be submitted at the Regulations.gov website by using docket number FMCSA-2019-0128.

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, associate editor, 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.