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New Federal Transportation Bill May Bring Meal and Rest Break Relief to Employers

UPDATE: Amendment 783 was cut out of the final bill in conference.

As you may have heard, the House has passed a 6-year, $325 billion transportation bill, after considering over 130 amendments.  What you may not know is that the bill may have a big impact on wage and hour law for transportation companies, particularly in the trucking industry.  While not all of the amendments passed, one in particular that was successful will be of particular interest to employers impacted by the clash between state wage and hour laws governing meal and rest breaks and federal transportation laws.

In 2014, the Ninth Circuit ruled that California’s meal and rest break laws were not preempted under the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA), meaning that trucking companies were required to observe the various meal and rest break rules in the western states covered by the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction.  The decision provided a powerful signal to other appellate courts that had not yet decided the issue, potentially complicating trucking routes across the country.  Last week, House members voted 248-180 in favor of Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA)’s Amendment 783 to the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act (the formal name for H.R. 22, the transportation bill). Rep. Denham explained on the House floor that:

Congress enacted the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, or F4A, to prevent States from undermining Federal deregulation of interstate commerce through a patchwork of State regulations. Since 1994, motor carriers have been operating under the Federal meal and rest break standards until a ruling by the California Ninth Circuit Court. This amendment would remedy that issue.

The amendment would clarify that the FAAAA does preempt state regulation related to meal and rest break requirements. Specifically, the measure would prohibit any state from enforcing a law or regulation that prevents employees whose hours of service are subject to regulation by the Secretary of Transportation “from working to the full extent permitted or at such times as permitted . . .  or imposing any additional obligations on motor carriers if such employees work to the full extent or at such times as permitted.”

The amendment also contains language restricting a state from enacting or enforcing a law or regulation that:

requires a motor carrier that compensates employees on a piece-rate basis to pay those employees separate or additional compensation, provided that the motor carrier pays the employee a total sum that when divided by the total number of hours worked during the corresponding work period is equal to or greater than the applicable hourly minimum wage of [the state].

The measure must now be conferenced with a separate Senate measure on highways passed in July.  The Senate’s version does not include an FAAAA preemption amendment, so whether Rep. Denham’s amendment survives will depend on closed-door negotiations.  We should know within the next week whether the FAAAA preemption amend makes it into the finall bill, since the deadline for reauthorization of transportation funding is November 20th.

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