The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill that passed the House last week includes an amendment with serious implications for the trucking industry.
The Denham-Cuellar-Costa Amendment, backed by Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Jim Costa, D-Calif., has garnered mixed reaction from the trucking industry. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) believes the amendment will help streamline interstate commerce by federalizing hours-of-service rules, but the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) believes the amendment will rob truck drivers of needed rest breaks and rightful pay.
The amendment was originally part of the FAST Act passed in December, but this amendment didn't make the final cut, which is why it's tacked on to the FAA bill.
To make sense of the debate, here's a breakdown of how the amendment could impact the industry.
What does the amendment do?
- The amendment allows drivers to work longer hours (within federal guidelines) without taking breaks as required by some states (California, for example, requires a 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked and a 30-minute meal break for every five hours worked).
- By preempting state laws, the amendment also prevents drivers from being paid for the breaks they take (states like California pay drivers for breaks).
- Drivers can still take breaks, but they would lose money by doing so. Under federal law, drivers must take 30-minute breaks every eight hours, which are now enforced by electronic logging devices (ELDs).
Why is the industry fighting over it?
The ATA wants unified, seamless regulation so that interstate commerce won't be hampered. The OOIDA is concerned about drivers' rights and general wellbeing. Here's a breakdown of their arguments:
- Because the amendment would allow drivers to disregard states' hours-of-service laws, this could help drivers make shipments on time when they're using ELDs and racing against the clock to stay within federal hours-of-service rules. Productivity could also rise.
- But because drivers would no longer be paid for breaks, this could deter drivers from taking needed breaks, despite fatigue, potentially causing accidents and reducing productivity in the long run.
- The OOIDA claims that driver wages would not be able to improve under this amendment because states would no longer require trucking companies to pay state-imposed minimum wages (which can be higher than the federal minimum wage). Therefore, companies could get away with only paying the $7.25/hour federal minimum wage.
Why does this matter?
This amendment could seriously upset the industry. Here's what could happen if the amendment passes with the final FAA bill:
- Drivers may struggle to get better pay, which is an especially sensitive point as the driver turnover rate approaches 100%.
- Interstate commerce would be streamlined, making it easier for trucking companies to plan and execute routes. This could increase productivity, but that increase could be offset by side effects of the ELD's implementation problems or driver dissatisfaction and subsequent quitting.
- Drivers may not get the rest they need, further exacerbating the sleep apnea problem and high semi-truck crash rate.
Shippers may also feel positive and negative effects of the amendment: the amendment could allow for more streamlined interstate commerce, which means shippers may be able to ship faster, accelerating their supply chains. On the other hand, if the amendment exacerbates existing problems in the trucking industry, it could continue to push up rates.
The FAA bill with the Denham-Cuellar-Costa amendment has yet to pass the Senate, which means the industry's fate is not sealed either way.