“Real Concern” Over Possible FMCSA Reversal on California’s MRB Rules
Washington, D.C. – There is a growing uneasiness among some trucking stakeholders the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) could soon reverse its decision to preempt California’s meal and rest break (MRB) requirements for professional truckers.
Despite a ruling earlier this month in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the FMCSA’s 2018 decision to preempt California’s “confusing” and “overly burdensome” MRB regulations, multiple high ranking trucking executives and associational leaders tell Transportation Nation Network (TNN) there is reason to have “real concern.”
“This is an issue to be concerned about,” Dave Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) said this week. “TCA members are concerned about it and will continue to use their voices to support the preemption.”
It’s well-established the MRB rules frustrated many carriers operating in California because it opened them up to more complexity, compliance costs and a series of class action lawsuits.
The Agency’s preemption order was celebrated by a host of major trucking groups including the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association, each of which submitted petitions arguing California can’t preempt federal regulations that govern hours of service (HOS) rules.
However, not everyone was thrilled.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the California Labor Commissioner’s Office, along with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, each filed suits against FMCSA in February of 2019 asking the court to reverse the Agency’s decision “due to the adverse impact it would have on thousands of workers and highway safety in California.”
The suits were eventually consolidated and heard by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In an unanimous 34-page opinion issued on January 15, 2021, the Court ruled “the FMCSA permissibly determined that California’s MRB rules were State regulations ‘on commercial motor vehicle safety,’ so that they were within the Agency’s preemption authority.”
So, why the growing angst?
The mounting anxiety is due to the recent change in USDOT leadership from the Trump to Biden Administrations.
Plus, the Teamsters is a strong ally to President Biden and is expected to have significant influence on transportation policy.
“I don’t think this is done whatsoever,” Joe Rajkovacz, director of governmental affairs and communications at the Western States Trucking Association recently told TNN. “I believe there is a strong likelihood the Teamsters will petition the USDOT to reconsider their decision, and it’s more than reasonable to expect a reversal.”
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Adding to the concern is soon-to-be USDOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s refusal to give a definitive answer on the issue when asked about it in a U.S. Senate confirmation hearing last week.
In response to Senator Roy Blunt’s (R-TN) query on the topic, Buttigieg said, “So, I would want to look more into some of the specific case law you are discussing, but certainly recognize the importance of consistency [and] predictability and the key of course is squaring that with that fundamental mission of safety.”
Sen. Blunt urged Buttigieg to keep the preemption in place once he is confirmed.
TCA’s Heller reiterated Sen. Blunt’s request.
“One federal rule is the way it works best,” Heller declared. “You can’t have a driver go to eight different states in one day and operating under eight different sets of rules.”
This will be an issue to watch closely in the coming months.
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