Shippers ready to fight driver overtime pay bill in Congress

Truck with depiction of cash following on the road.

Legislation aimed at ensuring overtime pay for truckers is getting close scrutiny from a major shipper group that plans to fight hard against it if the bill starts to gain steam.

The Guaranteeing Overtime for Truckers Act, introduced in April by Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., would repeal the motor carrier exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), an exemption that excludes many drivers from overtime pay protections.

“Truck drivers across the country face brutal working conditions marked by inadequate pay and long hours,” Levin commented when he introduced the bill.

“Despite their tireless work, truck drivers do not receive overtime pay for overtime hours. As a result, the trucking industry faces an extremely high turnover rate as truckers cannot keep up with the thankless demands of their work. We all stand to benefit when truckers are paid what they’re owed.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC) are major supporters of the bill, which currently has eight co-sponsors — seven Democrats and one Republican).

The National Industrial Transportation League (NITL), whose member companies are major customers in the trucking industry, does not believe the bill will gain much momentum. However, “if something were to happen on it I’m sure we could move pretty quickly to mitigate it on Capitol Hill,” said Ann Warner, who leads government affairs for NITL, speaking on Tuesday at the group’s transportation summit. “We’ll continue to monitor it and act on it if we need to.”

Jeff Tucker, chairman of NITL’s highway committee and CEO of freight brokerage company Tucker Company Worldwide, considers the legislation a “potential threat,” because “if it gains steam, and if there are bells and whistles affixed to it, it could stand to undo progress we’ve made to deregulating the freight environment.”

In addition, if the bill were enacted, “in theory, drivers would have to be paid for a lot of time that they’re not currently paid for, which would not be sustainable,” said Avery Vise, VP of trucking for transportation consultancy FTR, who also spoke at the meeting.

But Levin and safety advocates supporting the bill say that boosting pay also indirectly improves safety, because drivers are less likely to feel the need to speed or continue to work when they feel tired.

“I think that when truck labor rates are fair, there’s less incidents of driver fatigue, fewer regulatory violations, a reduction in crash rates,” Levin said earlier this month at a webinar sponsored by TSC. “So it’s going to prevent a lot of these tragedies that happen when truckers are forced to work way too long.”

Levin acknowledged his bill will get pushback and that it’s difficult to move any legislation in the current Congress. “Washington is overrun with lobbyists and people trying to protect monied interests,” he said. However, “I haven’t run into a lot of opposition yet, and it does seem to have broad appeal.”

He noted that his motive for introducing the bill was bolstered by a supply chain vulnerability report issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation in February urging Congress to repeal the FLSA motor carrier exemption.

“That report did influence us. My staff is speaking with [Biden] administration staff, and we hope to move this legislation forward with their support.”

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