The federal government has sided with trucking corporations in a new ruling that says truckers don’t have to be paid for their mandatory rest and meal breaks like employees in other industries.

The ruling, handed down Dec. 21 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, says that a California rule that required truckers to be compensated for the mandatory breaks like every other hourly employee in the state isn’t valid. The ruling states that since the federal law doesn’t require truckers to be compensated, the California law doesn’t have to be followed.

Mandatory breaks for workers

California labor law requires all employers to give employees a 30-minute break during shifts longer than five hours. The law also requires transportation workers to rest for 10 minutes every four hours.

Federal law, however, requires only that truckers take an unpaid 30-minute break and not drive more than 11 hours each day.

At issue is safety. Tired drivers are three times more likely to get into accidents, studies show, and 13 percent of commercial truck drivers were fatigued when they were in an accident, a study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration itself shows.

In support of and against the breaks

In support of not paying truckers for their breaks were California’s trucking companies themselves. The companies said they were facing lawsuits for failing to provide such breaks even though the truckers themselves were responsible for taking the breaks. They say some of the lawsuits were frivolous.

Against the move are the truckers. They say their safety is being compromised. Also, they say they will lose thousands of dollars each year taking forced, unpaid breaks each day.

Truckers are typically paid not by the hour but by the mile – the farther they travel in a day, the more money they make. The provides a financial incentive for the dangerous practice of driving while fatigued. Both the federal and state rules sought to address the issue, but only the state rule required companies to spend money.