The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has decided that federal law preempts California's rules for meal and rest breaks for truck drivers. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) had petitioned FMCSA to preempt California's rules and this represents a major victory for ATA.
In granting ATA's petition, FMCSA said that California's rules are more stringent than, and thus incompatible with, federal hours-of-service rules that truck drivers must follow. FMCSA also said that California's rules have no safety benefit beyond federal regulations, and "cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce."
ATA's petition to FMCSA argued that California's rest break requirements could adversely impact highway safety by, among other things, requiring drivers to stop more frequently and thereby augment the strain on truck parking capacity in the state. FMCSA cited this line of thought in its ruling but did not expressly ground its ruling in a safety concern caused by a truck parking shortage. Instead, the agency cited concerns over interstate commerce and particular sensitivity to state safety regulations that are inconsistent with federal rules. FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez said that a hypothetical scenario where each state creates a "patchwork" with different sets of meal and rest break rules would be inordinately complicated and strain the economy by reducing productivity.
"NATSO supported ATA's efforts over the past year to create a single, uniform regulatory structure for trucking fleets and their drivers," said Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman, NATSO Vice President, Public Affairs. "This is a positive outcome for everyone interested in enhancing the efficiency of moving goods by truck across the nation's Interstate system."
FMCSA's decision reverses a 2008 agency ruling that found California's meal and rest break rules weren't specifically commercial motor vehicle safety regulations because they applied broadly to all employers and not just motor carriers. As a result, the agency said at the time that the Transportation Secretary didn't have authority to overrule the state.
Now, FMCSA says the state's meal and rest break rules are indeed commercial motor vehicle safety regulations because they "impose the same types of work limitation requirements" as federal hours-of-service rules and thus they are subject to preemption review.
"This is a victory for highway safety, not trial lawyers," said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. The decision "will save jobs, unburden businesses throughout the supply chain and keep the prices Americans pay for food, clothing and countless other essential items affordable and accessible," he said.
California's labor code provides for a 30-minute meal break for shifts of 5 hours or more for all workers in the state. California laws also establish a right for workers in the transportation industry to a 10-minute break for every four working hours.
Federal hours-of-service rules impose daily limits on driving time, and require long-haul truck drivers to take at least 30 minutes off no less than 8 hours after starting a shift if they plan to drive for more than eight hours in a day.
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