Courts Affirm Commercial Driver Protection Under California Labor Law
September 8, 2014 by Dalisai Nisperos
Two important court decisions recently affirmed that California commercial drivers are protected by state labor and unfair competition laws, and that federal trucking rules do not exempt California motor carriers from these laws. These ruling under California labor law support the rights of truckers to meal breaks and employment benefits frequently denied drivers who are treated as contractors rather than employees.
The Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (“FAAAA”), notwithstanding its reference to aviation, has important application to the trucking industry. In 1980, Congress deregulated trucking. In 1994, Congress passed the FAAAA to prevent state laws from interfering with the federal deregulation of the trucking industry. Congress has the authority to enact federal laws that “preempt,” or replace, state laws that get in the way of federal law, and the FAAAA is one of these laws. It preempts, or replaces, state laws that relate to the rates, routes or services of any air carrier or motor carrier.
The FAAAA thus presents a problem for California’s commercial drivers who attempt to enforce their state labor and employment rights. Commercial trucking companies sued for violations of these rights often claim that the state laws are preempted by federal law regulating the trucking industry.
In Dilts v. Penske Logistics, the Ninth Circuit, the federal appellate court for California, held that the FAAAA does not preempt California Labor Code meal and rest break requirements. In Dilts, more than three hundred delivery truck drivers sued various trucking companies to enforce their right to take two meal breaks when they work more than ten hours – a Labor Code requirement that is routinely disregarded by commercial driving companies. The Dilts court found that California’s meal and rest break regulations are not the type of traditional state regulations the FAAAA is meant to preempt because they are not related to motor carrier prices, routes or services. Importantly, the court noted that motor carrier employers must comply with these California laws “even if they raise the overall cost of doing business,” and even if companies must factor the regulations into their decisions about routes, rates or services.
In Harris v. Pac Anchor Transportation, the California Supreme Court found that the FAAAA does not preempt California unfair competition law. In that case, the State of California sued Pac Anchor Transportation, alleging that the company fraudulently lowered its cost of doing business by misclassifying its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. The misclassification enabled the company to avoid its legal obligation to pay state taxes, obtain workers compensation insurance, and pay minimum wages. The Supreme Court concluded that the FAAAA does not preempt generally applicable state labor laws – such as California’s Labor Code and Unemployment Insurance Code – and held that California’s unfair competition law is independent of prices, routes, and transportation services.
These decisions affirm that commercial drivers have a right to seek legal remedies under California law, in state and federal courts, when their employers violate their state law rights to take meal and rest breaks or be classified as employees. Beeson, Tayer and Bodine (BT&B) attorneys are experienced in assessing and defending employee rights in California. Contact us for questions about the rights of commercial drivers in the State of California.
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