Truck drivers as they make their way down on our highways are entitled to more breaks in the Golden State than drivers in most of America. This, however, could change with proposed Congressional legislation now under way.
Currently, California truckers are subject to state employment laws. Transportation employees are generally entitled to a 30-minute meal break every five hours they work, as well as a 10-minute rest break every four hours they work. Legislation moving through Congress this week, originally written by Rep. Jeff Denham, (R-CA) ,would prevent states from setting their own rules for truck drivers’ work hours. State rules would be preempted by federal regulations that require a 30-minute rest break after eight hours of driving.
The legislation change is dividing truckers and their employers, who could save millions of dollars in payroll and mitigate employment lawsuits from drivers who claim they didn’t allow them to take required breaks. Supporters of the measure say a patchwork of state-by-state wage regulations doesn't make sense for an industry in which employees can cross multiple state borders in one work shift.
"It is beyond belief that we can live in a country where every state you cross can decide when a driver has to take a break," said Joe Rajkovacz, an executive with the Western States Trucking Association, an industry group that is among those lobbying Congress for the rule change. The legislation is one of the trucking industry's top priorities, he said.
On the flip side, opponents argue that getting enough rest is critical for drivers' safety and say California should be allowed to set its own rules. In fact, truckers and union officials have pointed to studies showing that driver fatigue is one of the top 10 causes of large truck crashes. Rome Aloise, president of Teamsters Joint Council 7, which represents truckers and delivery workers, says, “It's about having safe roads when people are driving literal killing machines alongside you. I want to make sure that the guy in the truck next to me, driving 60,000 pounds, is not going to run me over because he falls asleep."
The new legislation would apply to drivers involved in interstate shipping. Additionally, truckers operating out of the Port of Oakland or other ports that handle international shipping would also be affected. (At least 20 states also have their own meal and rest break laws that would be impacted.)
The proposed policy change would also be retroactive, preventing lawsuits against companies that allegedly denied employees breaks required under California law.
RPS specializes in providing transportation insurance solutions and will continue to keep our eye on this and other legislation affecting the industry.