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Murray, Democrats Urge Department of Transportation to Ensure Worker Protections for WA Truckers

Department considers actions to override trucker protections, preempting states’ rights to set their own labor standards


WA truckers would face elimination of crucial meal and rest breaks


Democrats urge Department to follow the law and respect WA protections for truckers


Lawmakers: “We urge you to listen to workers and worker advocates instead of favoring special interests”


Washington, D.C. –Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, led a group of lawmakers in demanding that Secretary Chao halt efforts to improperly override worker protections for truckers in Washington state. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is currently considering a proposal that would threaten crucial meal and rest breaks currently afforded to truckers under state law.


This effort is the latest DOT attempt to preempt states’ rights to set their own labor standards, allowing corporations to ignore crucial worker protections. In their letter, the lawmakers emphasized that the Department’s past actions were done “contrary to the law” and that the current proposal is on similarly shaky legal ground.


“Make no mistake, the Department of Transportation is overstepping its bounds and curtailing Washington state’s right to protect its workers. Anyone who has driven on I-5 or I-90 knows truck drivers already work some of the most grueling hours of any workers in the country, and Secretary Chao shouldn’t make this critical job even more taxing by taking away breaks for rest and meals. Trucking is critical to our state’s growers, exporters, consumers and more—ensuring the health, safety and well-being of truck drivers is not only the right thing to do, but crucial for our economy and road safety,” said Senator Murray.


A vocal defender of worker protections, Senator Murray previously urged Trump Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to deny a petition from the American Trucking Associations (ATA) requesting a determination that the State of California’s meal and rest break rules are preempted by Federal law.


Other lawmakers who signed the letter include Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Representatives Susan DelBene (D-WA-1), Rick Larsen (D-WA-2), Derek Kilmer (D-WA-6), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-7), Kim Schrier (D-WA-8), Adam Smith (D-WA-9), Denny Heck (D-WA-10), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).


Full text of the letter is below and the PDF is HERE.


November 8, 2019


The Honorable Elaine Chao


U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue SE

Washington, D.C. 20590


Dear Secretary Chao:


We strongly urge you to deny the petition submitted by the Washington Trucking Associations, Inc., (WTA) to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requesting a determination that Washington state’s Meal and Rest Break Rules (“Washington MRB rules”) are preempted by the FMCSA hours of service (HOS) regulations under the Federal Motor Carrier Act of 1994 (MCSA).[1] WTA’s request, if granted, would infringe upon the right of states to regulate wages, hours, and working conditions and is contrary to basic principles of federalism.


Congress has consistently rejected efforts to override state meal and rest rules in recent years. Multiple measures have failed to become law – including through the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, various appropriations bills, and the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. Congress has considered at length the impacts of preemption of meal and rest break laws on truck drivers, reviewed congressional intent in enacting the motor carrier preemption statute, and thoroughly evaluated the complex operational realities of goods movement. Congress has also examined narrowly tailored statutory changes to promote uniformity of hours of service rules for drivers who operate across multiple States. The absence of a provision explicitly overruling applicable state laws strongly suggests the FMCSA is without the statutory authority to find these laws preempted under the statute. We strongly maintain that any change to preemption in this area requires a change in statute and must be left to Congress.


Our concerns regarding this issue are underscored by the FMCSA’s recent decision to reverse its 2008 ruling that the California Meal and Rest Break Rules (“California MRB rules”) are not preempted. In 2008, the FMCSA rejected a preemption petition filed on behalf of a group of motor carriers regarding California’s MRB rules.[2] Comparing the plain, unambiguous language of the MCSA and its legislative history against the California MRB rules, the FMCSA correctly recognized that the California MRB rules were not regulations on commercial vehicles and were instead “simply one part of California’s comprehensive regulations governing wages, hours and working conditions.”[3] Inexplicably, the FMCSA reversed its position last year.[4] Last year, 19 Senators and Members of Congress, including several of the undersigned, wrote a letter urging you in the strongest terms to reject the petition and are deeply disappointed in the FMCSA’s final decision. The FMCSA’s determination is contrary to law, the FMCSA’s longstanding position on the issue, and congressional intent.[5]


As with our previous objections to the FMCSA’s determination regarding California’s MRB rules, granting the WTA petition would undermine protections for workers and attack the sovereign authority of states to uphold those protections. Like the special interest groups in the California petition, the WTA cannot and does not assert that the Washington MRB rules are explicitly laws “on commercial motor vehicle safety.” Like the California MRB rules, the Washington MRB rules constitute legitimate exercises of state police powers to regulate wages and hours of work among all employers in the state and are not unique to trucking, much less to the transportation industry. The WTA therefore cannot satisfy the initial threshold required by the MCSA that the Washington MRB rules constitute a “State law or regulation on commercial motor vehicle safety […]”[6] Accordingly, the petition should be rejected.


Our reasons for opposing a determination of preemption are outlined in the attached document. Please include this letter and the attachment in the docket containing the agency’s request for comments on the WTA’s petition [Docket No. FMCSA-2019-0128].


We urge you to listen to workers and worker advocates instead of favoring special interests and deny the WTA’s petition. It is within the authority of Congress, not the FMCSA, to decide whether changes to the MCSA are warranted, and until Congress acts, the FMCSA must respect the sovereign rights of states to enforce their own wage and hour protections.





[1] 49 U.S.C. § 31501 et seq.

[2] Petition for Preemption of California Regulations on Meal Breaks and Rest Breaks for Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers; Rejection for Failure To Meet Threshold Requirement, 73 Fed. Reg. 79204 (published Dec. 24, 2008).

[3] Id. at 79205-79206.

[4] California’s Meal and Rest Break Rules for Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers; Petition for Determination of Preemption, 83 Fed. Reg. 67470 (published Dec. 28, 2018).

[5] The California Attorney General, the California Labor Commissioner, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have appealed the Department’s determination to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

[6] 49 U.S.C. § 31141(a) (emphasis added.).