A provision that would prohibit states from imposing their own labor laws or regulations on interstate truck drivers—language passed by the House but ultimately dropped from the highway bill, or FAST Act, late last year—has reemerged in a long-awaited and just-released House aviation authorization bill.
Tucked away near the end of the “Title VI-Miscellaneous” portion of the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2016 (HR 1441, the AIRR Act), Sec. 611 copies the highway bill amendment by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) that spells out “Federal Authority” over state and local laws.
The legislation is needed because California courts have repeatedly failed to recognize that the federal preemptions under the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (F4A) apply to interstate trucking operations. And when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider a recent appeal, the industry’s remaining recourse became Congress and legislation, Richard Pianka, lead litigator and acting general counsel for the American Trucking Assns., told Fleet Owner in November as the highway bill entered the home stretch.
California wage-and-hour enforcement policies and related court decisions have made carriers’ attempts to use a compliant mileage-based pay plan exceedingly complicated, to the point of being absurd, he explained then.
“It prevents motor carriers from using a pay system that’s based on productivity and efficiency,” Pianka said. “And that was exactly why Congress originally preempted states from regulating the trucking industry. It wanted the market to shape industry to make it as productive and efficient as possible.”
But the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Assn. (OOIDA), which opposed the provision in the FAST Act, is once again rallying its membership.
A new call to action explains that “large motor carriers have managed to slip in a provision that will impact truck driver pay.”
“The language also includes an ambitious overreach that would limit the states’ ability to address pay issues,” the small-business trucker group says. “OOIDA needs you to speak out and call your law makers about Section 611 because it could unravel mandated fair-pay for drivers and would empower large carriers to further reduce driver wages. It would also gut the ability for states to address critical items like payment for detention time.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters also opposes the provision.
“These elected officials are doing the bidding of the ATA, which wants drivers on the clock as much as possible for time behind the wheel. In fact, the provision would also limit how a truck driver could be paid and not even compensate them for safety procedures like performing pre-trip inspections,” Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa said in a statement Thursday. “In addition to robbing drivers of pay, the language could prevent drivers from collecting workers compensation and sick leave benefits, among other worker benefits. In short, it overrules the fundamental principle that all workers should be paid for the time they work.”
But Joe Rajkovacz, director of governmental affairs and communications for the Western States Trucking Assn., has pointed to a $100 million class action lawsuit facing Wal-Mart, a company which offers “the best private sector driving job in the country.” Simply, in California, drivers and “shyster lawyers” are being very successful at suing companies because their employees were not paid specifically for activities such as fueling the truck.
“Never mind, when you add it all up, this guy’s getting paid $30 an hour for his time. He wasn’t directly compensated for whatever that bottom-line time was, at least at a minimum wage,” Rajkovacz told Fleet Owner in November. “These geniuses think they’re uplifting drivers by screwing with motor carriers, but the solution is to say, ‘Fine, we’re paying all of our drivers minimum wage’—but then you’re going to have to revert to some sort of comparison contract or incentive program on top of that.”
The catch for such a compensation plan is companies then run into “an accounting nightmare” because of other California wage laws, he added.
As to the meal and rest break complications, Rajkovacz cited the case of a five-truck fleet that has had a $1.5 million judgment levied against it for violating California rules.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to begin debate on the AIRR Act next week.