A “poison pill” truck driver pay provision tucked into a massive aviation reform bill came under fire from a leading Senate Democrat Thursday, but big trucking’s top lobbying group quickly defended the legislation, citing the industry’s need to operate on a single “coast-to-coast” system rather than a “patchwork” of state laws.
At issue is language in the in the AIRR Act (HR 1441) that that spells out “Federal authority” over state and local laws. Backers say the legislation is needed because some states (specifically California and its courts) have repeatedly failed to recognize that federal preemptions under the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (F4A) apply to interstate trucking operations. As a result, trucking companies could be required to schedule and pay drivers according to the employment laws of each state in which they operate.
But Sen. Barbara Boxer, the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, held a Capitol press conference to blast the “mean-spirited provision,” and said it allows companies “dock employees’ pay when they take a meal or bathroom break.”
Boxer, urging her fellow senators to reject the language, argued that 20 states already have laws which would be overturned by this provision—laws, she noted, that have been upheld by the Supreme Court.
“And it’s about more than pay,” Boxer said. “A truck driver who fears their pay will be docked—which will be most of them—will suffer from driver fatigue. We know that driver fatigue and distracted driving are significant causes of truck-involved accidents. This terrible anti-safety, anti-worker provision is a poison pill and has no place in the FAA bill.”
The same language was included in the House version of the highway bill last fall, but Senate conferees working on the final bill negotiated its removal, Boxer added.
Boxer also cited support from a dozen trucking, labor, and highway safety groups, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA), the Truck Safety Coalition, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
To emphasize her point that not compensating truck drivers for time spent on “non-driving” responsibilities is dangerous, she cited a letter from OOIDA on the issue:
“This unpaid time creates undue pressure incentivizing drivers to drive farther and faster in order to remain economically viable,” OOIDA said.
Similarly, the Teamsters and other labor organizations wrote in their letter:
“[T]his provision would rob drivers of compensation for work performed other than actual driving, would overturn decades of lawsuits and judgements awarded to drivers because employers knowingly broke the law, and would greatly undermine highway safety by increasing fatigued driving and putting more drivers and other motorists at risk.”
Opponents are being 'deceptive,' ATA says
But American Trucking Assns. (ATA) leaders called on Congress to reject efforts “by organized labor and trial attorneys” that would impose state scheduling laws on interstate transportation providers.
“A single set of consistent and fair regulations is essential to the trucking industry,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said in a statement. “Language currently being discussed by Congressional leaders would ensure that drivers operate under a consistent set of break rules, whether that driver is delivering a trailer full of water to Flint, Mich., or picking up a load of avocados in Temecula, Calif. That’s what Congress sought to establish with a 1994 law, and recent interpretations of that law by the courts are threatening that consistency.”
ATA contends F4A “made it clear” that states are not permitted to institute rules governing the trucking industry because Congress wanted the industry to operate under a single, uniform system rather than a “confusing and inefficient patchwork” of state laws.
“If lawmakers do not address this overreach by the states and the courts, they will destroy the unified national rules that Congress intended trucking to operate under,” Graves said. “And moreover, if opponents of this provision succeed in blocking this common sense fix, it only will make an already difficult job unnecessarily complex.”
ATA also chided opponents of the measure for being “deceptive” in their characterization of the provision’s impacts.
“Federal regulators have said unequivocally that California’s break requirements are not safety rules, as critics have claimed,” said Richard Pianka, ATA’s acting general counsel. “In addition, contrary to the claims of the special interests lobbying against this provision, it will not allow carriers not to pay drivers for all their time. In fact, the legislation expressly requires that drivers being paid by the mile or load receive as much or more than they’d be entitled to if they were paid by the hour.”
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee authored and voted 34-25 to recommend the AIRR Act—which includes controversial language to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system— to the full House. Because the House has put off a vote on the bill and its complicated impact, Senate leadership is considering a bill of their own.
The federal aviation authorization was extended last September; that extension expires at the end of next month.