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FMCSA decides to preempt California meal and rest break rules

“Safety is FMCSA’s top priority and having uniform rules is a key component to increasing safety for our truck drivers.” - Ray Martinez, FMCSA Administrator

The decision is in. After receiving, reviewing and analyzing more than 700 comments, on December 21, 2018 the FMCSA granted The American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) petition submitted in September and determined that state meal and rest break rules are preempted as applied to property-carrying Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) drivers covered by the federal HOS regulations.

FMCSA announced its decision after the 30-day public comment review period where individuals and industry representatives such as ATA and the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association weighed in on the subject.

The agency ruled that the State of California meal and rest break rules are preempted on the grounds that they:

1. Are more stringent and incompatible with federal HOS regulations

Employers under the meal and rest break rules must provide CMV drivers with more rest breaks than the federal HOS regulations, and they allow a smaller window of driving time before a break is required.

2. Have no additional safety benefit

FMCSA concluded that meal and rest break rules negate the flexibility that were purposefully built into HOS regulations. Specifically, the 30-minute rest break within an 8-hour window is intended “to prevent excessive hours of continuous driving with a driver’s need for flexibility in scheduling a rest break.”

Further, with the shortage in parking availability, FMCSA believes requiring CMV drivers to make additional stops during a shift under the meal and rest break rules has negative safety implications.

3. Cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce

FMCSA acknowledged that complying with meal and rest break rules decreases driver productivity and adds to carrier’s administrative costs associated with compliance.

 

So, who does it apply to?

This FMCSA decision applies to interstate property-carrying CMV drivers who are subject to federal HOS regulations. The ruling has national implications because it effects the trucking industry as a whole. Many other states have similar laws, so this decision could lead to a shift of federal laws taking precedence over the states’.

 

And, who won’t it apply to? 

This decision does not apply to:

  • Interstate passenger-carrying drivers

Footnote 1 in the decision states “this determination of preemption does not apply to drivers of passenger-carrying CMVs in interstate commerce.” However, FMCSA would consider any petition asking for a determination with respect to these drivers if a carrier or an association were to file a petition.

  • California intrastate drivers

Drivers working exclusively in intrastate commerce would not be covered by this determination because they aren’t subject to FMCSA’s HOS regulations. A driver who doesn’t leave the state of California but moves goods in interstate commerce would be covered by the rule, however, since those drivers are subject to federal HOS rules.

Also of note, this determination does not expressly address whether it applies to drivers operating under the short-haul exemption. One may consider that short-haul drivers are covered by the FMCSA’s hours of service regulations, so this determination may extend to them. There may be edge cases where applicability is unclear, so carriers need to assess their risks and ideally with the help of their own legal counsel.

 

Background on the issue —  

California’s labor laws require employers to provide employees with meal periods of 30 minutes for every five hours on duty, and rest breaks of 10 minutes for every four hours (or major fraction thereof) worked throughout their shift. If in violation, the employer must pay the employee additional hourly pay.

For truck drivers operating a CMV in interstate commerce, the Federal hours-of-service (HOS) rules already impose daily limits on driving time and require at least 30 minutes off duty no later than 8 hours after coming on duty.

The ATA filed its petition with the U.S. Department of Transportation in September 2018 after years of unyielding attempts to secure federal preemption language via the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (F4A) in Congress. Their petition stated that California’s meal and rest break rules have imposed extra burden on drivers and carriers operating in California, imposing additional costs of operating in interstate commerce.

The petition asked for California’s meal and rest break requirements to be preempted as applied to interstate property-carrying CMV drivers covered by FMCSA’s HOS regulations — pursuant to authority under section 31141, title 49 of the USC – which states that the Secretary of Transportation can determine that state laws that conflict with federal safety standards or burden interstate commerce may not be enforced. 

 

Will this decision be challenged through the courts?

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has petitioned the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to review and reverse FMCSA’s ruling. ATA though has signaled that it will support FMCSA’s preemption determination. The timing of the briefings is scheduled to take place around March-April 2019, but it may be subject to change as the case develops.

With this decision, carriers employing interstate property-carrying CMV drivers can rest more assured against a growing patchwork of state meal and rest break rules. Further, it may offer immediate relief for carriers involved in litigation as this decision will likely be upheld for those cases.

ATA has stated that “while this determination may be subject to litigation if trial lawyers or other groups challenge it in court, we are confident that it will withstand judicial review.”

 

Key takeaway —

Overall, the key takeaway in the ruling for carriers is to work with their legal counsel to weigh the risks of changing operations and to review any policies in light of this preemption determination.