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Carriers In Washington State Look To Block Meal/Rest Break Rules

FreightWaves

The Washington Trucking Associations (WTA) wants the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to rule on whether federal law preempts the State of Washington's meal and rest break regulations.

WTA's petition, which was filed in April, will be published for a 30-day public comment period on October 9, the FMCSA stated in a notice. While the agency has the power to make preemption determinations on its own, it's taking comments "on any issues raised in WTA's petition or otherwise relevant," according to the notice.

The request by WTA was prompted by a similar determination made by FMCSA late last year when it granted petitions by the American Trucking Associations and the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association. The two groups had sought federal preemption from California's meal and rest break rules as it applied to drivers subject to the state's hours-of-service (HOS) regulations.

In making the decision in the California case, FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez cited industry feedback asserting that the state's meal and rest rules "not only pose a safety risk, but also lead to a loss in productivity and ultimately hurt American consumers."

WTA alleges in its petition that, like California's requirements, Washington's meal and rest break rules are "additional to or more stringent than FMCSA's rules," the FMCSA notice states.

If the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) decides that a state law or regulation is additional to or more stringent than federal regulations, according to the FMCSA, the state can be preempted if DOT concludes that the state law either has no safety benefit, is incompatible with regulations prescribed by DOT, or would cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce.

Along those lines, WTA points out that the rules in Washington have no safety benefit beyond those provided by FMCSA's rules, are incompatible with the federal HOS regulations and impose an "unreasonable burden" on interstate commerce. "Given the similarity between Washington and California meal and rest break rules, the Agency's analysis of California's rules in its recent preemption order applies equally to Washington's," FMCSA quoted from the petition.

With the California decision as precedent, FMCSA will very likely come to the same conclusion in the state of Washington, according to Adam Smedstad, a partner with the law firm Scopelitis.

In fact, "the logic that FMCSA is using in California should be reached with even more force in Washington, because Washington employs an "ensure" standard, rather than a "provide" standard," Smedstad told FreightWaves. "In other words, California's rules say that it must make meal and rest breaks available, but in Washington employers have to also ensure that an employee takes those breaks, which is more onerous," and thus more exposed to preemption by federal law, Smedstad said.

Appeals challenging the FMCSA's California decision, including from the State of California and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, are pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In May, a federal district court in California dismissed claims against U.S. Xpress that the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based truckload carrier violated the state's meal and rest break laws.

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