Dem senator slams trucking 'poison pill' in FAA bill

Dem senator slams trucking 'poison pill' in FAA bill
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Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTime is now to address infrastructure needs Tom Steyer testing waters for Calif. gubernatorial bid Another day, another dollar for retirement advice rip-offs MORE (D-Calif.) is criticizing an effort from House Republicans to prohibit states from requiring truck drivers to receive paid meal and rest breaks in an aviation funding bill that is being considered by lawmakers in the House. 

Boxer said Thursday the inclusion of the trucking provision in the Federal Aviation Administration measure approved by the House Transportation Committee is a "poison pill" that will ground the aviation funding bill when it arrives in the Senate. 

"If someone told me to dock my employees’ pay when they take a meal or bathroom break, I would say that is outrageous.  Well that describes what a provision in the House FAA bill does to truck drivers," she said during a press conference in the Capitol. 

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"You may wonder why is a truck driver provision in an aviation bill?" Boxer continued. "The answer is easy. We killed it in the highway bill and the Republican House will not give up on their mean-spirited provision." 

The trucking language in the FAA bill would prohibit states from enacting or enforcing a "law, regulation, or other provision" that would require truckers to be paid for meal and rest breaks beyond what federal law currently requires.

Trucking groups have said the prohibition would negatively affect drivers' wages. 

"What does #Aviation have 2 do with #TruckDrivers Wages? NO! to FAA Re-Auth Section 611 pg 256-258 #GOP #DEMS," the REAL Women in Trucking group tweeted when the measure was being considered by the House Transportation Committee.

The provision about truck driver scheduling regulations was crafted in response to a California court ruling that said states can impose their own laws regarding meal and rest breaks for drivers. The language was inserted into the FAA bill after it was removed from an earlier highway funding bill that was passed by lawmakers last year. 

Trucking companies have argued the effort to prohibit states from requiring additional break time for truck drivers will ensure uniformity in the nation's trucking laws. 

“A single set of consistent and fair regulations is essential to the trucking industry,” American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves said in a statement.

“Language currently being discussed by Congressional leaders would ensure that drivers operate under a consistent set of break rules, whether that driver is delivering a trailer full of water to Flint, Mich., or picking up a load of avocados in Temecula, Calif," he continued. "That’s what Congress sought to establish with a 1994 law, and recent interpretations of that law by the courts are threatening that consistency." 

Truck driver advocates, meanwhile, have said that federal rules for meal and rest breaks are insufficient. 

"The subsection threatens highway safety by not compensating drivers for the time they spend working, which includes routine operations like truck inspections, addressing maintenance issues — and most importantly waiting to be loaded or unloaded," the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) said in a letter to lawmakers when the provision to prohibit states from requiring paid rest breaks was being considered in the highway bill. 

"This language would ensure that drivers are only compensated when the wheels of the truck are moving, even though many drivers spend the equivalent of 4-6 weeks each year waiting to be loaded or unloaded," the group said then. "This unpaid time creates undue pressure incentivizing drivers to drive farther and faster in order to remain economically viable." 

The truck operator group said the language that is now inserted into the FAA bill would "unravel mandated fair-pay for drivers and would empower large carriers to further reduce driver wages.  

"It would also gut the ability for states to address critical items like payment for detention time," the group said.

Boxer said Thursday overturning the rules for trucker rest and meal breaks would have consequences for U.S. road safety. 

"A truck driver who fears their pay will be docked — which will be most of them — will suffer from driver fatigue," she said. "We know that driver fatigue and distracted driving are significant causes of truck-involved accidents. 

Boxer added she will "use all the tools at my disposal to ensure that it is not included in the FAA bill or any other legislation.

"This terrible anti-safety, anti-worker provision is a poison pill and has no place in the FAA bill," she said. "It has no place in any bill, which is why we killed it in the highway bill."

Updated with new information at 5:33 p.m.