Union slams inclusion of trucker rules in funding bill

Union slams inclusion of trucker rules in funding bill
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A union that represents public transportation workers is slamming lawmakers for including a move to allow truck drivers to work more overnight shifts in the government funding bill that is being considered this week. 

The provision to ease federal trucker scheduling regulations designed to prevent driver fatigue was inserted into the $1.014 trillion “cromnibus” funding legislation by Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Ryan: Graham-Cassidy 'best, last chance' to repeal ObamaCare Collins skeptical of new ObamaCare repeal effort MORE (R-Maine) at the behest of trucking industry groups, who argued the regulations were too burdensome. 

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) said Thursday that the provision to weaken the truck driver overnight scheduling rules is “an immoral effort to strip users of our roads of their right to safe passage and a death sentence for truck drivers, bus drivers and others. 

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“This is a very dangerous move by Congress that will result in more deaths and gruesome injuries on our nation’s highways,” ATU International President Larry Hanley said in a statement. “The safety and security of Americans should come first for our nation’s lawmakers. This is immoral and if it passes Congress will have blood on their hands.” 

The proposal at issue would suspend a current requirement that truck drivers take breaks between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on consecutive nights before they can work again. The measure would also remove a limit on the number of times they can declare the start of a new workday. 

Truck drivers would still be limited to working 70 hours over one week. After reaching that limit, they would have to take an immediate 34-hour break before getting back behind the wheel.

The trucking industry has argued that the current overnight scheduling rules have resulted in more trucks being on the road during daytime hours, when traffic is heavier and trips take longer.

Trucker groups also contend the regulations are forcing drivers to take two full days off, in some cases, before they could work again.

Hanley noted Thursday that the proposed changes to the trucker scheduling rules stalled in Congress earlier this year when they became entangled in controversy after a high-profile accident involving comedian Tracy Morgan.  

“It was no shock to us that the truck driver in the Tracy Morgan crash had gone 24 hours without sleep, a practice many truck driver and low paid bus drivers are forced to do because they need second jobs to be able provide for their families.” Hanley said. “Taking these federal limits away is a death sentence for truckers who will be forced to work with even less rest. Our politicians should be held responsible for every truck accident and tour bus crash because of their failure to address driver fatigue.”

A spokesman for Collins defended the Maine senator's efforts to change the federal truck driver scheduling regulations, saying that the provisions in the government funding bill were properly vetted during a June committee vote. 

"This provision, which was debated and approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, would provide temporary relief from two provisions of the hours of service regulations that are unintentionally forcing more trucks on the road during the most congested, and dangerous, morning rush hours," Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley said in a statement that was provided to The Hill.

"The former administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has admitted that these rules were not fully evaluated for safety and crash reduction benefits," Kelley continued. "The temporary suspension will give FMCSA time to fully review all aspects of these two provisions so that safety changes, if needed, can be appropriately addressed."

Kelley also noted that the crash involving Morgan occured under the federal government's current regulatory framework for truck drivers. 

The trucker scheduling rules is part of a large number of policy riders inserted into the government funding package by lawmakers as Congress attempts to wrap up a largely quiet legislative year with a flurry of action. 

Lawmakers are expected to complete work on the broad government appropriations package this week. Current funding expires on Dec. 11. 

The proposed cromnibus is expected to keep all government agencies open through September 2015, except for the Department of Homeland Security. Agencies dealing with immigration policy would only be funded through late winter, likely through February.  

-This story was updated with new information on Dec. 12 at 2:57 p.m.