The U.S. Transportation Department ruled Friday that California laws requiring truck drivers be allowed certain break periods can be pre-empted by federal laws, which provide for less downtime.
The ruling comes in response to a September petition of the DOT by the American Trucking Associations, an industry group representing trucking companies, which claimed that a when rules vary from state to state, it can cause confusion for drivers and challenges for business across the supply chain. The Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association also filed a similar petition in October.
In its ruling Friday, the DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wrote California’s meal-and-rest break laws, “are more stringent than the agency’s hours of service regulations, that they have no safety benefits that extend beyond those already provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, that they are incompatible with the Federal hours of service regulations, and that they cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce.”
California’s labor code provides for a 30-minute meal break for shifts of five 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 eight hours after starting a shift if they plan to drive for more than eight hours in a day.
The ATA applauded the ruling. “This is a victory for highway safety, not trial lawyers,” ATA President and Chief Executive Chris Spear. said in a statement, adding 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.”
The National Retail Federation also submitted public comments to the FMCSA in support of pre-empting California laws.
“Truck drivers have some of the longest hours of any workers in America,” said Barry Broad, director of the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, which supports the state’s stricter rules for meal and rest breaks. “What you’re doing is you’re making tired people work more,” he said.
Mr. Broad’s said California’s rules have been in place for decades, so the federal preemption “is a big deal.” He added, “This is not about safety, it’s about money.”
In an October comment, submitted in response to the ATA petition, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra wrote that “numerous court decisions have upheld California labor standards against pre-emption challenges in the transportation context,” citing several examples.
“The California provisions targeted by the ATA are routine workplace regulations unrelated to any concerns about motor vehicle safety,” Mr. Becerra wrote.