A new federal ruling requires California truck drivers to take unpaid rest breaks — but a flurry of lawsuits could change that

  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) said on Dec. 21 that California trucking companies don’t need to provide paid rest and meal breaks for their truck driver employees.
  • Truck drivers rejected the ruling, saying paid rest and meal breaks help ensure safety. Under federal law, they are legally required to rest for 30 minutes a day during their 14-hour workdays. Now, California truckers don’t need to be paid during that break.
  • Last week, the Teamsters Union and the state of California sued the FMCSA.

California truck drivers don’t receive paid rest and meal breaks anymore.

A December 21 ruling from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) said California trucking companies don’t need to provide trucker employees with paid rest and meal breaks.

The ruling followed petitions from industry groups like the American Trucking Associations, which represents the country’s largest trucking companies.

One reason to nix the break, according to a statement from FMSCA Administrator Ray Martinez, is an uptick in crashes between the California-Oregon border that are allegedly caused by a decline in parking. Paid rest breaks are also “a drag on the economy,” Martinez said.


Read more:
Rest breaks are a ‘drag on the economy,’ and the federal government says California truck drivers don’t need them

Last week, lawsuits filed to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit from the Teamsters Union and the state of California took aim at those claims. Both parties are suing the FMCSA and alleging that federal laws don’t overrule California’s labour laws.

TruckerScott Olson/Getty Images

These suits contest the ideas that rest breaks are bad for the economy and safety.

For instance, the American Trucking Associations (ATA), an industry group that’s made up of the largest trucking companies and wants to get rid of rest breaks, calculated that rest breaks would be bad for corporations. But they incorrectly calculated that truckers receive 60% more paid breaks than they actually do.

In response to that miscalculation, the case filed by Miles E. Locker, attorney for California’s Labour Commissioner, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra wrote:

(T)he ATA’s arguments concerning lost productivity are speculative and unsupported. In this regard, the TTD states that the ATA’s argument is nothing more than a “‘back of the napkin’ speculation on lost productivity… (that) invokes the specter of damage to interstate shipping without evidence.”

These cases also stated that the lack of parking can’t be attributed to the California paid rest break law.

Industry groups, truck drivers, and politicians have fought over California rest breaks for years

Previously to the December ruling, truckers were compensated like typical hourly employees in California. State labour laws stipulate that workers get a 30-minute meal break for shifts longer than five hours and mandate that transportation workers rest for 10 minutes every four hours. (That law still applies to truck drivers who only work in the state of California.)

In 2014, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that carriers in California must ensure truckers get proper rest and meal breaks.


Read more:
Angry California truck drivers are slamming a new rule that requires them to take unpaid rest breaks, one calling the change a ‘travesty’ for safety

The ATA and the Western States Trucking Association have long fought against that ruling through petitioning Congress, the Commercial Carrier Journal reported. Last year, the groups turned to the FMCSA, which has a new slate of leaders under the Trump administration, to overturn the rest breaks ruling. ‘

DesireeWood, who began trucking in 2007, previously told Business Insider that not giving paid rest breaks could put the safety of truck drivers and typical drivers at risk.

“If you really cared about safety, you would want people on the highway who are not stressed out about their pay and who are well-rested,” Wood said.

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