Congress May Require USDOT to Examine How Many Immigrant Truckers Don’t Know English
Washington D.C. – Federal lawmakers may soon require the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) to report how many immigrant truckers are unable to read and speak English.
A provision in the House of Representatives’ surface transportation reauthorization bill — INVEST in America Act — would require the USDOT Office of Inspector General (OIG) to conduct a study on how many commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers operating in the U.S. are employed via a temporary business visa (H1-B).
Among the aspects lawmakers specifically want to know is how many CMV drivers fail to meet the federal English proficiency requirement to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
Under section 391.11(2) of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, “a motor carrier shall not require or permit a person to drive a commercial motor vehicle” unless that person:
Can read and speak the English language sufficiently to converse with the general public, to understand highway traffic signs and signals in the English language, to respond to official inquiries, and to make entries on reports and records.
While this issue remains incendiary and uncomfortable for many in today’s political environment, many truckers say this is a growing safety problem on U.S. roadways that needs to be addressed.
Two years ago you may recall that hundreds of thousands of people within the trucking community applauded Tennessee owner operator Joshua Williams for confronting Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) officials over the issue during a public listening session on proposed Hours of Service (HOS) reform.
“You don’t have to speak English or understand English to get a commercial driver’s license anymore,” Williams told the panel of FMCSA leaders. “That’s something that needs to change. It hurts us.”
Williams, who has been an owner operator since 2011 and primarily hauls oversized military loads, didn’t stop there.
“They have no idea what they’re doing when you tell ‘em they’re not chaining it down right. They don’t like it. They don’t understand,” Williams asserted.
Conversely, immigrant advocacy groups argue they are the ones being exploited by companies desperate for low wage workers.
In fact, multiple lawsuits have been filed in recent years on behalf of immigrant truck drivers who contend their lack of proficiency of the English language makes them more susceptible to being improperly classified as independent contractors, illegal deductions being taken from their paychecks and failing to be compensated for all miles driven.
Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill support a USDOT OIG study on this issue for the sole purpose of cracking down on companies engaging in this alleged activity.
If the INVEST Act is passed into law, the USDOT OIG would have one year to submit a report on its findings to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
The bill is scheduled to go before the House next week for a full vote where it is expected to pass.