With the U.S. Senate set this week to take up the annual budget for the Dept. of Transportation, an ad hoc coalition of safety, labor, law enforcement and public health groups is urging lawmakers to resist the “insatiable” economic agenda of the trucking industry.
“We strongly urge you to oppose any special interest anti-truck safety riders including changes to the truck driver hours of service (HOS) rules that would jeopardize the safety of truck drivers and the motoring public,” reads the letter to Appropriations committee leaders. It’s signed by representatives of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, Parents Against Tired Truckers, Truck Safety Coalition, Road Safe America, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Assn., the Trauma Foundation, and others.
The appropriations package, which also funds the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and is known as THUD, two years ago included language that initially rolled back the restart provisions on hours of service limits, pending further study of 2013 changes by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Members of the coalition actively opposed that provision and were prominent voices during the contentious political fight over the issue.
And language in last year’s bill “moved the goal post by imposing unnecessary requirements and unattainable results that essentially make it impossible for the safety provisions to be reinstated,” the letter continues. “These political maneuvers evade the regulatory process, disregard the congressional committee of jurisdiction and ignore federal agency and public input. Simply put, they are a political give-away to certain segments of the trucking industry.”
But “the insatiable attempts of certain trucking interests to advance their economic agenda regardless of the human cost to public safety” didn’t stop there. The letter cites a range of trucking-related provisions in the recently passed highway bill, the FAST Act, that “gut safety protections.” These include an extension of the restart rollback which, according to the DOT's subsequent interpretation of it, could effectively eliminate the restart altogether. A fix for the legal loophole is also expected to be included in the next THUD.
“It is time to stop allowing industry exclusive access to determine and draft their own safety rules in authorizing and spending bills that keep the public out,” the letter concludes. “Congress stands at a critical juncture, to either choose the safety of their constituents or bow to the relentless pursuit by trucking interests to put personal profit before public safety.”
The coalition’s plea comes just days after Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter of her own to leaders on the Appropriations Committee urging them to oppose efforts to include an “outrageous” provision in the THUD appropriations bill that would “dock the pay of truck drivers” by superseding state labor and wage laws for drivers engaged in interstate commerce.
The House version of the highway bill included an amendment that would have prohibited states from imposing labor laws or regulations on companies whose employees are subject to federal HOS rules. Additionally, under the provision, states could not enact or enforce laws that require a motor carrier that pays employees on a piece-rate basis to pay those employees separate or additional compensation, provided the compensation is equal to or greater than the applicable hourly minimum wage of the state.
That amendment was removed, however, when Senators opposed the language during conference committee negotiations on the final version of the FAST Act. Earlier this year, Boxer led the effort to have the language removed from an aviation funding bill.
“This provision is a poison pill and I will use every tool at my disposal to oppose any legislation that includes it,” Boxer said of the pending DOT budget bill.
The American Trucking Assns., which has led the lobbying efforts supporting much of the trucking-related legislation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the coalition letter.
During the THUD debate a year ago, a spokesman said ATA would continue to look for legislative opportunities “to advance our pro-safety, pro-trucking agenda,” whether through appropriations packages or other long-term transportation bills.