Truck Drivers Lose California Meal and Rest Breaks under Federal Court Ruling

Our country’s economy is built on the backs of truck drivers, whose demanding trips keep them on the road and away from their families while allowing Americans to receive goods from across the world in a matter of days. In spite of this service they provide, truck drivers engaged in interstate commerce do not enjoy all of the rights and protections afforded to other workers. For instance, truck drivers are generally not entitled to overtime. And after a recent decision from the Ninth Circuit, California truck drivers will now also be denied the meal and rest periods guaranteed to other employees under California law.


Meal and Rest Breaks: Federal Law v. California Law


In 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) revised its federal hours-of-service regulations to require most drivers of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles working more than eight hours to take one 30-minute break during the first eight hours of a shift. Drivers had flexibility, though, in determining when that break would occur.


These federal regulations were far less generous to drivers than California law, which provides for multiple meal and rest periods each shift, and which penalizes employers who fail to provide these shifts to their employees.


California’s Wage Order 9-2001, which applies to “all persons employed in the transportation industry,” guarantees employees working than five hours a day a “meal period of not less than 30 minutes.” Employees are entitled to a second meal break of not less than 30 minutes when working more than 10 hours in a day.


Wage Order 9-2001 also guarantees California transportation industry employees to 10-minute rest breaks for every four hours worked throughout the day. “[I]nsofar as practicable [these breaks] shall be in the middle of each work period.”


Finally, employers who fail to provide a meal or rest break must pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each day the meal or rest period is not provided.


International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 2785 v FMCSA

In 2018, at the behest of trucking industry groups, the FMCSA considered whether California’s meal and rest break laws were preempted by the FMCSA’s federal hours-of-service regulations. The FMCSA had previously determined in 2008 that they were not.


This time, however, the agency concluded that federal law preempted California’s meal and rest break laws. The FMCSA determined that because the California rules generally required employers to grant commercial truck drivers more breaks, at greater frequency, they were more stringent than federal law and “caused an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce.” The California Labor Commissioner challenged this determination.


On January 15, 2021, the Ninth Circuit upheld the FMCSA’s determination that California’s meal and rest break laws were preempted by the federal hours-of-service regulations. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 2785 v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, — F.3d —- , 2021 WL 139728 (9th Cir. 2021).


The Ninth Circuit determined the FMCSA had express authority from Congress to make preemption determinations and that its decision was not arbitrary and capricious. The Court pointed to a factual record that showed that the California rules negatively impacted the efficient operation of interstate logistics and resulted in lost productivity.



As a result of the Ninth Circuit’s decision in International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 2785, truck drivers are unable to enjoy the same meal and rest break protections that California law affords to other employees.


This is a blow to truck drivers everywhere, since, as the Ninth Circuit noted, 50% of the nation’s total container-cargo volume enter this country through California’s three major ports. However, drivers should keep on eye on the FMCSA during the Biden administration, as it’s possible the agency may choose to revisit its decision on California meal and rest breaks.