A federal court in Arkansas ruled that drivers are entitled to earn minimum wage for all hours worked – even during waiting periods officially entered as "off duty" in log books – in a case that could eventually have national implications.
According to various news sources, including Business Insider, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, Fayetteville division, on Oct. 19 ruled again Tontitown, Arkansas-based PAM Transport, in a class action suit for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The court denied PAM's motions to dismiss the claims of the three truck drivers who sued PAM in 2016 and the nearly 3,000 drivers who joined the class action suit. The decision means, in essence, that the court has decided that the time a driver spends waiting in his truck in the sleeper birth still constitutes work — even though the driver may log that time as "off-duty."
According to Justin Swindler, the attorney representing the drivers in the class action suit, the Arkansas decision suggests that drivers are entitled to minimum wage for 16 hours per workday — every hour spent in the truck save for eight hours of sleep time. Because the carrier has hired the employee with the knowledge that part of their job duties are waiting, the Supreme Court has argued that those employees should be paid even though they are not actively carrying out a work task.
As District Court Judge Timothy Brooks wrote in his Oct. 19 memorandum on the PAM case:
There is no ambiguity here, then, as to whether an employer must count as hours worked the time that an employee spends riding in a commercial truck while neither sleeping nor eating: time thus spent "is working" and "any work" performed "while traveling must... be counted as hours worked."
The judge also said that the DOT hours of service regulations "have little, if any, bearing on the matter at hand."
"It's worth noting the case only stands for the proposition that carriers must pay their drivers $7.25 per hour," Swidler told Business Insider. "Under the FLSA, hourly wages are considered over the course of a whole workweek. This means that while carriers nationwide should understand their minimum wage exposure, companies which pay reasonable wages to their drivers have no reason for concern."
The payout for this case hasn't been determined yet, Swidler added. In 2015, PAM paid truckers $3.45 million in a similar settlement concerning a class action suit by employees who alleged PAM didn't pay them minimum wage.
The Arkansas decision echoes other recent lawsuits around the country that have found in favor of drivers. Last year, a Nebraska court decided that Werner Enterprises must pay $780,000 to 52,000 student truck drivers for alleged pay practice violations. Another major carrier, C.R. England, paid $2.35 million in back wages to more than 6,000 drivers in 2016.