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Letter to the Hon. Elaine Chao, Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation - Murray, Democrats Urge Department of Transportation to Ensure Worker Protections for WA Truckers


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.