HDT’s Business/Washington Contributing Editor David Cullen explores trucking’s overtime exemption.  -  Graphic: HDT

HDT’s Business/Washington Contributing Editor David Cullen explores trucking’s overtime exemption.

Graphic: HDT

Congress is taking a fresh look at a federal law passed in the second term of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that has prevented truckers from receiving overtime pay ever since. “Companion legislation” — two bills meant to run on roughly parallel tracks across Capitol Hill— have been introduced this year in the House and Senate. Once passed by both chambers with any differences reconciled, the legislation would wipe away the restriction placed on overtime pay for truck drivers for over 80 years.

If it were now made legal for carriers to offer company drivers time-and-a-half pay after 40 regular weekly hours worked for employing motor carriers, a huge dent could be hammered into the driver shortage that keeps a drag on trucking.

The potential for overtime pay would make driving a truck more comparable to how other jobs pay. And, frankly, it would be fairer to compensate drivers for all the extra time they put in beyond 40 hours a week. What’s more, to trucking’s overall benefit, overtime pay would dovetail with drivers’ rising expectations for higher compensation and— even harder to get — adequate “home time,” or at least somewhat akin to that of typical 9-to-5 workers.

The existing law carved out an exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act that denied company drivers access to the overtime provision that FLSA enshrined for most other hourly workers.

The first of the twin bills to strip away the exemption was introduced in the House on April 14 by Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI). The same day it was referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor. Despite Levin belonging to the majority, or simply because the wheels of Congress do grind slowly, the Guaranteeing Overtime for Truckers Act (H.R. 7517) has gone no further.

A Senate version of the bill with nearly identical text was introduced last month by Sens. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Alex Padilla (D-CA). No action has yet been taken on it.

The House bill is straightforward, which can’t hurt. By amending the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to remove the overtime wages exemption for certain employees, it would require “employers of commercial truck drivers to provide overtime pay to such drivers engaged in a workweek longer than 40 hours.”

“While fixing the discrepancy in existing law is long overdue… my bill also highlights that we are at a crucial moment for the industry writ large,” Rep. Levin said in a statement. He added that a recent DOT report, “Supply Chain Assessment of the Transportation Industrial Base: Freight and Logistics,” points out that, “Despite their tireless work, truck drivers do not receive overtime pay for overtime hours. As a result, the trucking industry faces an extremely high turnover rate as truckers cannot keep up with the thankless demands of their work. “

There is substantial support for removing the trucker overtime exemption beyond Capitol Hill, upping its chances of being passed and signed into law by President Biden. Several top lobbying groups that represent either truck driver or safety advocate interests, have lined up in favor of overtime relief, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; the Truck Safety Coalition; the Institute for Safer Trucking; Parents Against Tired Truckers, and CRASH.

“We know that for too long, too many people throughout the supply chain have placed little or no value on a driver’s time,” Todd Spencer, OOIDA President and CEO, said in a statement. “This is partly because of the FLSA overtime exemption.

“Shippers, receivers and carriers have never been forced to account for all the hours that they keep drivers waiting, since it costs them nothing to do so,” he continued. “By repealing the FLSA exemption, this bill would help make sure that drivers are compensated for all the hours they work.”

This commentary was published in the October 2022 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.

More from David Cullen's Washington Watch Column: New Efforts to Unkink the Supply Chain [Commentary]

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