Aviation bill new battleground over truck driver pay

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor

The ability to get fair compensation for all work performed as a truck driver is under attack in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act, HR4441, is a bill that, obviously, largely deals with authorization and reform of aviation programs. Nestled in the legislative language is a provision pushed by large motor carriers. That provision would have a far-reaching, negative effect on the way truck drivers are compensated, according to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. 

Section 611 was inserted in HR4441, dubbed the AIRR Act for short, in response to a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit decision that upheld meal and rest break pay for employee drivers in California.  

If the bill is passed with Section 611 intact, motor carriers would only have to pay drivers on a piecework or per-mile basis. Gone would be any chance at pay for detention time, safety inspections, paperwork, or any other work-related tasks that do not involve racking up miles. It would also gut the ability of states to individually address these sorts of issues in the future, according to OOIDA.

The language is similar to an amendment that Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., attempted to get included in the highway bill, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act or FAST Act. OOIDA successfully fought to prevent the amendment’s inclusion into the final bill signed into law in December 2015.

“This language is going in the exact opposite direction of where having a viable, professional workforce of drivers needs to be,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said. “The greatest inefficiency in trucking today is drivers’ time being squandered in required work-related activity that’s not driving. This is not about growing a professional workforce of drivers. It’s about institutionalizing a system for legitimate work to be forever donated.”

The lack of congressional discussion on the issue provides reason for pause as well, according to Spencer.

“This is not a provision that proponents are saying exactly how it would play out, what problem it fixes. It’s not been subject to any hearing, any discussion,” Spencer said.

OOIDA issued a Call to Action mobilizing members as well as their friends and families to call lawmakers in the U.S. House to oppose Section 611.

Spencer said time is short to let lawmakers know that truck drivers are opposed to not being compensated for work performed – all work performed.

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Sleep apnea proposed rulemaking clears White House

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking regarding sleep apnea cleared the Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday, Feb. 3. 

The proposed rule, which would regulate testing and treatment of truck drivers with sleep apnea, took less than two months from the time it was sent to OMB until it received clearance.

According to the abstract of the advanced notice, “the FMCSA and Federal Railroad Administration request data and information concerning the prevalence of moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea among individuals occupying safety sensitive positions in rail and highway transportation.

“FMCSA and FRA also request information about the potential economic impact and safety benefits associated with regulatory actions that would result in transportation workers in these positions, who exhibit multiple risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea, undergoing evaluation by a healthcare professional with expertise in sleep disorders and subsequent treatment.”

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said the attempt to regulate sleep apnea has often been a costly one for truck drivers. 

“We are hopeful that the broader issue of sleep disorders and similar conditions will get a full airing,” Spencer said. “We’ve already witnessed that those violations in the areas of driver fitness have no direct connection to crashes. That’s something we’ve known all along.”

Some medical examiners have required drivers to get sleep apnea testing based on factors like neck size alone. 

“This whole issue has been a really, really costly and frustrating experience for way too many drivers,” Spencer said. “Both they and we as an organization should expect a much more quality review of the issue.”

Current regulations state that “a person is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle if that person has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of a respiratory dysfunction likely to interfere with his/her ability to control and drive a commercial motor vehicle safely.”

In 2013, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill that prevents FMCSA from proceeding with any regulation of sleep apnea without going through a rulemaking process. That involves public comment periods, legitimate research, cost-benefit analysis, etc. 

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