Amendment May Stop Trucker Back Pay Lawsuits
There is currently an amendment before Congress that would bring a halt to at least 50 state and federal lawsuits against Wal-Mart Stores Inc., J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., Swift Transportation Co. and others large operators, that have been brought by truckers. The suits are attempting to collect back pay for meal breaks, fueling charges, and other necessary stops while on the job.
Thousands of drivers have joined the class action suit against some of the biggest trucking companies in the U.S., seeking over $100 million in owed payment for meal breaks and time that was spent loading cargo and waiting for refueling to complete. Before the amendment was put on the desks’ of the members of Congress, the suit was expected to go to trial as early as next year.
The amendment targets the labor laws in California that many of the lawsuits have built their foundations on. It would stop states from applying rules which go above and beyond the standards for driver pay set by the federal government. Because highway funding bills aren’t written every day, so interest groups are seeing this new one as a way to tack on plenty of revisions to current regulations. This amendment is only one of many that have been inserted in the highway bills, dozens of which affect truckers and others in the transportation industry.
Because big-company drivers are typically paid by the mile and not the hour, truckers are only making money when their wheels are in motion. So when they are grabbing a meal, sitting idle waiting on repairs, or filling up their large gas tanks, they are losing money. Currently, there are more than 20 states, one of which is California, who mandate that employers pay their drivers during delays. The drivers participating in the suit claim that down time activities such as eating, traffic jams, and mandated inspections are part of these delays and they need to be compensated for them.
Drivers have been coming forward more frequently in the last couple of years to sue for back pay after several court decisions have paved the way. A Californian federal court decreed drivers could sue Penske Logistics over rest breaks and meal breaks. Most recently, a judge ruled that drivers could move forward with their class-action suit brought against Wal-Mart. Seeing class action suits in the works tend to discourage large companies from continuing to refuse paying drivers for delays. Penske supports the amendment, welcoming what would be a rule setting uniform standards for trucking companies. Wal-Mart plans to fight the case against them in 2016.
Rep. Jeff Denham of California proposed the amendment and is part of the highway funding bill that the House recently passed. The bill is not included in the Senate’s similar legislation passed this summer, which means there is going to be quite a bit of disagreements to work through if Congress is going to pass their first long term bill since 2009, before their December 4th deadline.