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Truckers, union want Biden to reverse federal rules on truckers taking breaks

A federal appeals court says the Trump administration legally barred thousands of interstate truck drivers in California from taking meal and rest breaks the state had allowed, a decision that truckers and unions will ask the incoming Biden administration to reverse.

California law requires employers to provide a paid 10-minute rest break every four hours and an unpaid 30-minute meal break every five hours. But trucking companies have argued they were exempted by federal laws, including a law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994 that prohibits states from enforcing any statutes “related to a price, route or service of any motor carrier” that is transporting property.

The administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama sided with the California truckers and against the companies. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in the truckers’ favor in 2014, saying the California law applied equally to all businesses and did not regulate truckers’ prices, routes or services.

But President Trump’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration changed course in 2018 and said California was violating a 1984 federal law barring state transportation rules that impose an “unreasonable burden on interstate commerce.” A different panel of the appeals court ruled Friday that the administration’s position was reasonable, rejecting a legal challenge by a Teamsters Union local and a truck driver.

The federal agency “could reasonably determine that the (California) rules cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce because they decrease each driver’s available duty hours,” Judge Daniel Bress said in the 3-0 ruling.

Noting that California truckers carry a substantial portion of freight to and from U.S. ports, Bress said the state’s “more demanding break requirements” reduce the proportion of time that drivers spend on the road. The federal agency was entitled to conclude that “lost driving time leads to lost productivity and burdens interstate commerce,” he said.

Federal rules entitle interstate truckers to 30-minute breaks every eight hours, but pay them only the federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 an hour, for their rest periods. Because drivers are generally paid by the mile, few of them take the federal rest breaks, said David Rosenfeld, an Emeryville attorney representing the union and the driver in the case.

“If you stop and take a rest break, you lose miles,” Rosenfeld said. He said Friday’s ruling allows a future administration to change policy and allow California to enforce its break requirements, and advocates for the truckers have already submitted such a request to the Department of Transportation, which is to be headed by Pete Buttigieg, the former South Bend, Ind., mayor and presidential candidate, under Joe Biden’s administration.

“I’m confident that will happen fairly promptly,” Rosenfeld said.

This article originally appeared on San Francisco Chronicle

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