Dear Secretary Chao:
We write to urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to deny the petition submitted by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) for a determination that the State of California's meal and rest break rules are preempted by Federal law. We believe this is a matter of critical importance, which stands to have a dramatic impact on the rights of States to protect the safety of the public, to maintain highway safety, and to provide for the well-being of commercial truck drivers.
This petition represents another attempt by the ATA to preempt California's paid meal and rest break laws, even though such arguments in support of preemption have been rejected previously by: the U.S. Department of Transportation, in response to a nearly identical request by the trucking industry in 2008; the courts, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court (which declined to hear appeals in multiple cases); and Congress, despite multiple opportunities since 2015, including periods with Republican majorities in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
Our objection to an administrative determination of preemption is unequivocal. After more than four years of debate on this issue in Congress, we have had the opportunity to consider at length the impacts of preemption of California's meal and rest break law on truck drivers, to review Congressional intent in enacting the motor carrier preemption statute, and to evaluate thoroughly the complex operational realities of goods movement. We have also proposed narrowly tailored statutory changes, in an attempt to promote uniformity of hours of service rules for drivers that operate across multiple States. These reasonable proposals have been roundly and repeatedly rejected by the ATA. We strongly maintain that any change to preemption in this area requires a change in statute and must be left to Congress.
We are extremely concerned that this administration has already demonstrated a results-oriented bias against State meal and rest break protections. On September 20, 2018, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) determined that California meal and rest break laws are preempted with respect to drivers of motor vehicles transporting hazardous materials and certain classes of explosive materials, as well as drivers employed by motor carriers required to file a security plan. To justify preemption, the agency cites purported "unnecessary delay" in the transportation of hazardous materials created by California's labor law. As discussed in the attached, the State's law does not cause unnecessary delay, because drivers can agree to waive meal or rest breaks, provided they are compensated for the time worked. If an employer denies a driver an opportunity for a break, then the employer must pay the driver an additional hour of wages. By granting preemption, this administration has demonstrated its willingness to negate a State's authority to regulate wages and working conditions in order to sustain carrier productivity and profit.
Our reasons for opposing a determination of preemption are outlined in the attached document. Please include this letter and the attachment in the docket containing the agency's request for comments on the ATA's petition [Docket No. FMCSA-2018-0304].
We urge you to deny the petition submitted by the ATA, and to allow Congress to continue to debate whether changes to the statute are warranted to promote uniformity for carriers while not undermining the firmly entrenched rights of States to enforce strong wage and hour protections for workers within their borders.