Congress again set to take up provision to protect carriers from court-ordered payouts to drivers

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Updated Jan 7, 2020

Rear-view of a semi truck trailer on the roadThe U.S. House is slated to consider a measure next week that would block states from enforcing laws that require carriers to provide drivers with paid meal and rest breaks and, according to its proponents, would safeguard carriers against court-ordered payouts to drivers for non-driving tasks.

The so-called Denham Amendment, offered in various forms in the U.S. House and Senate in the past four years, was revived late Thursday.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) has offered his namesake amendment, officially titled the Federal Authority provision, for consideration as part of the House’s Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill.

The full House is set to debate and vote on the full FAA bill next week, where Denham’s Amendment likely will be brought to the floor for a vote for inclusion. Its backers have been unsuccessful in recent years in having the amendment added to larger bills in Congress. The Senate has yet to take up an FAA bill this year. For the amendment to ultimately become law, it must be included in both chambers’ bills.

The provision seeks to reassert the federal government’s role in managing drivers’ hours of service by preventing states from requiring carriers to comply with any state-level laws, such as those in California, that require employers to give employees paid meal and rest breaks. The Denham language instead exempts carriers from those laws, but it doesn’t forbid them from providing paid breaks if they choose.

The measure also seemingly restricts states from forcing carriers to pay drivers for non-driving tasks.

The Denham language comes in response to court decisions in recent years that ruled carriers must comply with state laws regarding paid breaks, and court decisions that ruled carriers could be on the hook for paying drivers for non-driving tasks.

Groups like the American Trucking Associations and the Western States Trucking Association, as well as carriers themselves, have argued that the 1994 Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (F4A), exempts carriers from state laws that could interfere with drivers’ work schedules. The Denham Amendment seeks to clarify that exemption.

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Opponents of the Denham Amendment argue it would stamp out driver pay reform efforts ongoing at the state level.