Big trucking has again asked Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) to push language that federally pre-empts state rules requiring companies to pay their drivers for time taken to eat and to rest. Again, smaller truckers and the Teamsters union have marshalled their legislative forces to beat it back.
The saga's latest chapter can be found in a familiar book, specifically a bill to re-authorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which the House was expected to vote on today. In 2016, language known as the "Denham Amendment" was tucked in to an FAA re-authorization bill in a bid to block 22 states with driver meal and rest times on their books from regulating drivers operating in interstate commerce. The provision never made the cut. Nor did it get into the 2015 federal transport-spending bill known as the FAST Act. The language also died during debates over several legislative initiatives in 2017 and 2018, the most recent being the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill signed into law last month.
In a letter released today, the Teamsters union framed the dispute as one that goes well beyond drivers getting paid for meal and rest times. The measure "would overturn any state's law that goes above the bare minimum federal rules for truck drivers," the union warned. "No state could demand that drivers need to get paid for nondriving time or take action against companies who misclassify their drivers as independent contractors. Any state laws that raise wages or protect the working conditions of drivers would immediately be overturned."
Opponents have said the language eliminates all driver compensation for work that does not involve actual driving, and it could effectively gut the states' future roles in dealing with these types of issues. The 1994 law deregulated states' economic authority over trucking, not their power to regulate labor matters, they said.
Supporters of the amendment, notably the American Trucking Associations (ATA), which represents the larger fleets, contend that it follows the intent of Congress in 1994 when it passed legislation that pre-empted the economic regulation of trucking that states had in place for decades.
ATA has argued the measure clarifies that Congress intended the industry to be governed by a single set of federal rules and break requirements established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the unit of the Department of Transportation that oversees truck safety. Lawmakers did not intend that carriers have to change their practices depending on what state they're in, the group has said.