- California's labor commissioner and attorney general filed suit against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week, seeking reversal of a decision handed down by the administration last month, according to a press release.
- The FMCSA preempted California from enforcing its meal and rest break laws for truck drivers any further in late December, on the grounds that the state's laws were too far out of line with the rest of the country. Before the order from the FMCSA, California required drivers to take a 30-minute meal break for every five hours worked on shifts longer than six hours, and a 10-minute rest break every four hours worked — more break time than the federal standard of a 30-minute break for every eight hours driving.
- “It is well within a state’s rights to establish standards for the welfare of our workers,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement, emphasizing that truck driver breaks should be equivalent to requirements in other fields of work — a point of controversy in this debate.
International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ Local 2785 filed a similar suit in late December and Teamsters Local 848 did the same last week, alleging that drivers are safer under California's original rules.
"A safe driver is a driver who can take 10 minutes off after four hours of driving, and who can have something to eat during a long work day," said Eric Tate, secretary-treasurer of Local 848. "The industry would rather see drivers never take a break or attempt to eat while driving; this will cause accidents major and minor. California has held a higher standard for years and it shouldn't be taken away."
Supporters of the FMCSA's decision also argue that drivers are safer without California's rules, saying the rules decrease flexibility and lead to unsafe decisions.
The state's suit alleges that the FMCSA has overstepped its authority in interfering with the meal and rest break standards, claiming that these are not laws or regulations on commercial motor vehicle safety, and therefore not under FMCSA's purview.
“Under the George W. Bush administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had determined that these very same worker rights were not preempted by federal law," California Labor Secretary Julie A. Su said in a statement. "In this reversal, the federal government would have drivers work up to 12 hours a day without breaks. We refuse to sit back and allow workers to be treated that way in California."
The FMCSA reached its December decision after a 30-day comment period in which it received hundreds of comments. Organizations were evenly split on the issues, but individuals were overwhelmingly against California's rules.
"During the public comment period, FMCSA heard directly from drivers, small business owners, and industry stakeholders that California’s meal and rest rules not only pose a safety risk, but also lead to a loss in productivity and ultimately hurt American consumers," said FMCSA Administrator Raymond P. Martinez at the time.