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August 21, 2020 · OPINION

Exemption to labor law unfair to nation’s truckers

By Matt Daly

The writer sent this letter to U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va./5th).

On April 16, 2020, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elain Chao joined President Trump and Chris Spear, CEO of the American Trucking Association, an Arlington-based lobbying organization for the largest American trucking companies, at a White House event to celebrate truck drivers’ actions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Secretary Chao, wife of Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, praised the truck drivers, calling them “heroes.” President Trump stated, “In the war against the virus, America’s truck drivers are the foot soldiers that are carrying us to victory.” He continued, “Truckers are playing a critical role in vanquishing the virus, and they will be just as important as we work to get our economic engine roaring.”

Most Americans probably aren’t aware how truck drivers are paid. Most over-the-road-truckers are paid based upon the number of miles they drive each day. They are allowed to be on-duty for 14 hours per day, and can only drive for 11 of those 14 hours, a maximum of 70 hours combined on-duty/driving time per week.

If the truck doesn’t move due to weather, accidents, etc., the driver doesn’t get paid. There is also unpaid waiting time during loading and unloading at shippers and receivers. Many over-the-road drivers stay on the road for two weeks, then come home for three days. Regional drivers stay out five days, then come home for a required 34-hour “reset.”

The result of this pay scheme is that many truck drivers are earning less than minimum wage, when accounting for all the hours working that aren’t compensated. According to Indeed, the average weekly truck driver’s salary is $1,020, or $14.57 an hour for a 70-hour week, but many bring home much less.

With a few exceptions, local truck drivers are usually paid by the hour, and no trucking companies are required to pay overtime, at time and a half, for hours worked over a 40-hour week. Why? Because of an archaic exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act, called the Motor Carrier Exemption. Many truckers are being asked to work very long hours during the pandemic. Not paying them the overtime results in significant loss of income — income that working people desperately need.

Section 13(b)(1) of the FLSA provides an overtime exemption for employees who are within the authority of the Secretary of Transportation to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service pursuant to Section 204 of the Motor Carrier Act of 1935, except those employees covered by the small vehicle exception described below. Thus, the 13(b)(1) overtime exemption applies to employees who are:

• Employed by a motor carrier or motor private carrier, as defined in 49 U.S.C. Section 13102.

• Drivers, drivers’ helpers, loaders or mechanics whose duties affect the safety of operation of motor vehicles in transportation on public highways in interstate or foreign commerce.

• Not covered by the small vehicle exception.

The time to change this outdated law is now. In recent lawsuits, such as Browne v. P.A.M. Transport, Inc., in October, 2018, an Arkansas district court found that, under the rules of the Fair Labor Standards Act, drivers must be paid at least a minimum wage.

Richard Pianka, deputy general counsel for the American Trucking Associations, was quoted as saying that the ruling is an “outlier that is causing concern in the trucking industry.”

It’s unfortunate that Mr. Pianka, and the trucking industry in general, haven’t expressed concern for their drivers and instead are only worried about the bottom line and keeping their shareholders happy. When the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was passed, many of the largest trucking companies used millions of dollars in savings to buy back shares of their stock and enriched their CEOs and shareholders. Very little to none of the money went to the drivers.

It’s also unfortunate that in the United States, it seems individuals in power always have to be sued to do the right thing. There is an easier way. Secretary of Transportation Chao has direct authority over the Motor Carrier Exemption, and therefore she may on her own initiate the process to eliminate this exemption. We must assume she knows it exists, therefore it’s her choice that nothing has been done about it.

President Trump has used trucks and truckers as a backdrop in many of his speeches, one just yesterday in Pennsylvania. He seems to like trucks. When adjusted for inflation, truckers earn less money now, than they did in 1980. In light of the fact that truck drivers are an integral part of the American economic recovery, in the midst of the worst income disparity in history, here is an opportunity for leadership and to begin to reverse this devastating decline of real wages.

Anything you can do to begin this change process would surely be appreciated by millions who work in the transportation industry. Eliminating this rule would have a significant positive effect on the welfare of American families, and help to secure the transportation industry for the future.
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PabloCruz · August 25, 2020 at 5:24 pm
Technology will always be with us, but it's existence shouldn't dictate how we treat each other. We must maintain the social compact between workers, companies, and the nation. If this breaks down, if people stop believing that hard work pays off, or that income from labor is treated/taxed less favorably than income from other sources, surely we're in grave danger as a nation. We should jump at any chance we have to reaffirm the value we have always placed in American labor.
Thanks for the comments.
Silii · August 25, 2020 at 1:29 pm
Well, clearly, and no surprise, Trump and Chao didn't care about you (and truckers) and the circumstances you so eloquently told us in your article. That pretty much sums up "anything you can do to begin this change process." It begins Sept 18 in Fauquier County with the big day being Nov 3. It's known as get Trump out of office so all the legal actions against him can proceed and he can continue to live off taxpayers in the Big House, not the White House.
FairandBalanced · August 25, 2020 at 12:13 am
You don't dispute the inevitability of 'driverless transport', NewBmore. Do you just think taking it in the ass will slow the progression to 'driverless transport'? Change is constant. Progress is optional. Time to think about other teamster functions if you wanna be in the game. Like smart trailer connections, equipment monitoring hardware and software, logistics technology, GPS, tariff fraud and function, engine improvement, translation, contract delivery agreements, source and destination environment, fuel consumption and efficiency, international traversing, road, bridge and terminal technology and on and on and on. God bless America!
NewBmore · August 24, 2020 at 11:20 pm

I enjoyed reading your piece. Very well written and informative.

Reading this did prompt one question - are you concerned that mandatory overtime may have the negative effect of accelerating the adoption of driverless transport?

I sympathize with the reality of compensation failing to keep up with inflation, and I too work in an overtime-exempt field. Curious as to your thoughts from the perspective of someone clearly "in the know."
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