Pepsi’s private fleet the latest to enter into settlement with drivers over California break laws

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A federal court is set to consider a $5 million settlement proposed by California-based drivers for Pepsi’s private fleet, which would pay 1,800 drivers an average of $1,988 to resolve allegations the company violated the state’s break laws.

U.S. Judge Edward M. Chen will hear lead plaintiff Nathaniel Helton’s motion July 27 to certify the class and give preliminary approval to the $5 million settlement. He also asked the San Francisco court to schedule the final approval hearing, where the judge will announce the amount allocated for attorney fees and costs and to compensate Helton for filing the lawsuit.  The parties agreed to hire CPT Group, which would receive $25,000 to administer the settlement.

Neither Pepsi nor Helton’s attorney responded to a request for comment. The corporation’s subsidiaries, New Bern Transport Corp. and Pepsi-Cola Sales are also named in the lawsuit.

The former New Bern driver estimates 1,800 current and ex-company drivers were employed by New Bern at any point between January 25, 2013, and the date the court issues an order preliminarily approves settlement. After Helton filed his complaint in 2017, the parties underwent three all-day mediation sessions before reaching agreement May 30.

Plaintiffs say Pepsi violated California state code mandating 30 minutes for meals every five hours and 10 minutes for rest every four hours. They also allege the defendants failed to pay overtime, issue properly itemized wage statements and reimburse business expense. New Bern argued its policies stipulates employees must take these breaks and to not answer their work phone while doing so.

The issue of California break laws has bubbled over in recent years, with carriers being hit with large court-ordered payouts for not complying with the state’s laws, which are at odds with federal laws regulating drivers’ work schedules.

Lawmakers in Washington have eyed reprieve for carriers, attempting to several times to pass the so-called Denham Amendment, which would block states from enforcing break laws for drivers and protect carriers from being subject to this type of litigation.

Read more about the Denham Amendment at the links below.