I was talking with a local truck driver the other night who was just about to finish his 14 hour driving shift. From the moment he had climbed in the truck, he had been working non-stop, for 14 hours in order to complete his work schedule for the night. For many local and hourly-paid truckers, this is normal. After three days straight of pounding out 14 hour days, he looked at me and said, “They don’t even give you time to grab a hamburger or even take a minute break. Whatever happened to the labor law that says you’re suppose to get a meal break?”
I hated to break the news to him, but I told him that this was largely a myth of some sort, depending on the state that you reside in. I explained that paid meal breaks for local truckers is a State issue, not a Federal Law issue. He came back with, “But, truck drivers operate under Federal Law, and Federal Law always overrules State Law.” Wrong again. Not when you are talking about truck drivers operating locally and on the clock.
For most U.S. employees, federal law does not require the employer to provide paid meal or “coffee” breaks. Long haul truckers are required to take a mandatory break, as we all know. But, what about drivers who work locally and on the clock? This is where the complicated task of deciphering the various state labor laws come in. This battle between truckers rights under Federal Law or State Law keeps the courts very busy. Over the road truckers are fixed with the mandatory Federal Law for the required breaks . . . this battle does not effect them. It is the local, hourly paid truck drivers who are expected to run 12, 13 and even 14 hours non-stop, without a concern by the employer of having the opportunity to stop for a quick 30 minute meal break. So what about labor laws? What about being paid for a meal break or even a 15 minute rest period? Trucking employers who push their local drivers to the very last 14 hour minute . . . giving no time for a quick breather . . . are they violating U.S. Labor Laws? As with anything in the rules of law, it can be extremely complicated. What is taking place in the courts is the battle between what Federal Law states, and what State Labor Laws say . . . you have to look at the labor laws of each state.
For example, in Kentucky, State Law concerning a rest break states: “10 minutes for every four hours worked.” For a meal break in Illinois the State Law says, “20 minutes after 5 hours, if the employee will work at least 7½ hours.” In New York it is “one hour“, and in California it states, “30 minutes after 5 hours, if the workday is at least 6 hours.
Currently, my understanding is that seven states require employers to give rest breaks:
Furthermore, 17 states do have statutes requiring meal breaks during the work day:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia.
There is not anything stopping him from shutting down and taking a quick 30 minute meal break, but the point he was trying to explain was that dispatch would be calling him asking about his ETA to the delivery. “Never a minute rest,” he said.
Local truck drivers being paid by the load or on percentage pay should not be bothered by whether or not they can stop for a break . . . it would not effect their pay. However, local drivers working on the clock, had greater concerns for not being paid for their time while doing their work duties. Again, for local, hourly paid truckers, Federal Law will not step in and save them . . . apparently, it all depends on what the State Statute of each state implies. This, is the battle attorneys face . . . which law will apply to each individual truck driver, in relationship to the category of driving that they do?
Federal law exempts certain truckers from receiving overtime pay and paid meal or rest breaks. Certain states have laws that require the employer to pay for meal breaks, concerning certain types of truck drivers. For employers that do provide break time, Federal Law mandates that any breaks of 5-20 minutes must be compensated by the employer. However, a break lasting 30 minutes or more is not considered “compensable time” and the employer is not obligated to pay.
Many local and hourly paid truck drivers have recently taken their fight to the courts and have won in some cases. Other cases are still pending. There can still be a fine line between the Labor Laws and the rights of truckers. It really hinges on whether or not your state has statutes in place for employers to provide paid work breaks. Unfortunately, I had to point out to my fellow trucker, that Florida is not one of them.
© 2010, Allen Smith. All rights reserved.