WASHINGTON — Nineteen Democratic members of the House of Representatives and the Senate have “strongly” urged Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to deny a petition submitted by the American Trucking Associations requesting a determination that the State of California’s meal and rest break rules are pre-empted by federal law.
“Our objection to an administrative determination of preemption is unequivocal,” the lawmakers stated in a letter to Chao dated October 31. “After more than four years of debate on this issue in Congress, we have had the opportunity to consider at length the impacts of pre-emption of California’s meal and rest break law on truck drivers, to review Congressional intent in enacting the motor carrier pre-emption statute, and to evaluate thoroughly the complex operational realities of goods movement. We have also proposed narrowly tailored statutory changes in an attempt to promote uniformity of Hours of Service rules for drivers that operate across multiple states. These reasonable proposals have been roundly and repeatedly rejected by the ATA. We strongly maintain that any change to pre-emption in this area requires a change in statute and must be left to Congress.”
The lawmakers said they were extremely concerned that the Trump administration had already demonstrated a results-oriented bias against state meal and rest break protections, noting that on September 20, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration had determined that California meal and rest break laws were pre-empted with respect to drivers of motor vehicles transporting hazardous materials and certain classes of explosive materials, as well as drivers employed by motor carriers required to file a security plan.
“To justify pre-emption, the agency cites purported ‘unnecessary delay’ in the transportation of hazardous materials created by California’s labor law,” the lawmakers wrote. “The state’s law does not cause unnecessary delay, because drivers can agree to waive meal or rest breaks, provided they are compensated for the time worked. If an employer denies a driver an opportunity for a break, then the employer must pay the driver an additional hour of wages. By granting pre-emption, this administration has demonstrated its willingness to negate a state’s authority to regulate wages and working conditions in order to sustain carrier productivity and profit.”
The California law requires employers to provide a “duty-free,” 30-minute meal break for employees who work more than five hours a day, as well as a second duty-free, 30-minute meal break for people who work more than 10 hours a day. Other states followed California’s lead, enacting their own break rules. Nearly 20 states have their own separate meal and rest break laws.
The trucking industry has for some time tried to get legislation passed that would pre-empt state trucking regulations.
The most recent Congressional rebuff came late last month when an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018 that would have clarified Congress’ intent to have federal regulatory authority over interstate commerce, was removed as the House and Senate conference committee met to resolve differences between the two bills as passed by those respective chambers.
The amendment would have stopped the erosion of federal authority by states who impose meal and rest breaks that run contrary to national uniformity.
The amendment had been approved in the House on a vote of 222-193 last April but was not part of the FAA Senate bill.
Within hours of learning that the amendment had been quashed, the American Trucking Associations submitted a petition to the FMCSA requesting a determination under federal law whether California’s meal and rest break rules are pre-empted by federal law.
The specific federal law cited by ATA says a state may not enforce a state law or regulation on commercial motor vehicle safety that the Secretary of Transportation decides may not be enforced.
The letter was led by Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure; Patty Murray of Washington, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
The letter was signed by Robert “Bobby” Scott of Virginia, ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce; Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia, ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit; as well as Reps. Grace Napolitano, Jared Huffman, Julia Brownley, Alan Lowenthal, Mark DeSaulnier and Mark Takano, all from California.
Senators who signed the letter include Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, both of California; Claire McCaskill, Missouri; Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut; Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, both of Massachusetts; Cory Booker, New Jersey; Margaret Wood Hassan, New Hampshire; and Robert Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania.
The letter and a four-page attachment strongly refuting the call for a determination of pre-emption can be found here.