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Highway Bill Amendment Hones in on Trucker Pay Suits

Nov 24, 2015 at 01:34 PM CST


Nov. 23, 2015—Congress is debating a highway bill amendment that would put the brakes on a legal fight between some of the nation’s biggest trucking companies and their drivers over back pay.

Thousands of drivers in California have sued their employers, claiming they’re owed wages for meal breaks, and time spent on loading and refueling. Drivers for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are seeking over $100 million in a class action that could go to trial next year. Some of the country’s biggest trucking companies, including Swift Transportation Co. and J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., are among the firms named in at least 50 suits in state and federal court.

An amendment to the massive highway funding bill passed last week by the U.S. House targets the California labor laws underpinning many of those legal challenges. The amendment, proposed by Rep. Jeff Denham (R., Calif.) would bar states from applying rules that go beyond federal standards for driver pay.

The amendment is one of dozens affecting trucking and other transportation-related industries that were inserted into the highway bills, as interest groups seize a rare chance to remake regulations. Congress hasn’t passed comprehensive transportation legislation since 2009 and the current bill would likely close the issue for years. Denham’s amendment isn’t in the Senate legislation passed over the summer, setting up a showdown as legislators merge the two bills before a Dec. 4 deadline.

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