Washington Insider
D.C. crew keeps driver pay on top of agenda

By Collin Long, OOIDA director of legislative affairs

With summer on the horizon and November's unpredictable elections looming, opportunities to pass legislation through Congress are increasingly fleeting. This time of year, elected officials are desperate to spend more time back home shaking hands and kissing babies than in Washington casting votes on controversial measures that could potentially upset crucial voters. As the window for enacting major pieces of legislation slowly but steadily closes, advocates are clamoring to have their top legislative priorities addressed before work in the Capitol comes to a grinding halt.

While most associations are frantically lobbying Congress to include preferential provisions in any bill that has the potential to become law, OOIDA's government affairs team has focused much of its energy on ensuring that a controversial proposal, which is detrimental to professional drivers, is blocked.

This proposal would affect a 1974 law called the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act or F4A, by attempting to address conflicting state meal and rest break laws, as well as piece rate pay for truckers - an ambitious overreach. Piece rate pay is a standard practice in the trucking industry that allows motor carriers to compensate drivers via a one-time payment for the delivery of cargo.

Unfortunately, piece rate pay only rewards drivers for the time in which their truck's wheels are moving, leaving many uncompensated for detention time, the loading and unloading of cargo, inspections, and other factors associated with completing a delivery. Proponents, led by the American Trucking Associations and a handful of its members who favor the antiquated status quo, disingenuously contend that the efforts of a single state to reform piece rate pay will lead to an unmanageable patchwork of conflicting statutes across the country. They believe Congress must intervene.

Despite aggressive advocacy, supporters failed to secure a federal pre-emption in last year's surface transportation reauthorization (the FAST Act), unarguably the most appropriate legislative vehicle to address trucking issues. After their FAST Act defeat, proponents turned to the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as their next opportunity to enact a federal pre-emption.

In February, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed an aviation reauthorization bill (AIRR Act), which unfortunately included an F4A provision (Section 611), but only after an amendment to strip the contentious language was narrowly defeated. Following approval by the Committee, the AIRR Act was scheduled to be debated on the House floor, but was sidelined when it became clear there were insufficient votes for it to pass.

The most controversial provision in the bill after the privatization of air traffic control operations, F4A drew the ire of several influential legislators, whose support for the measure was considered essential. Perhaps the most vocal critic of F4A in the House, Ranking Member of the Transportation Committee Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said of Section 611, "If the intent is really to solve an interstate commerce problem, this language completely - and purposefully - misses the mark. It is an expansive hacking-away at the ability of a state to promote healthy working conditions for truck drivers." (See more on Page 24.)

With the House's aviation proposal shelved indefinitely, the Senate began drafting its own reauthorization bill. From the start, Senate leaders expressed concern at the controversial provisions that derailed the House bill and set to work carefully crafting legislation that could garner substantial bipartisan support. Despite continued pressure from ATA and a small group of its members, the Senate Commerce Committee passed a noncontroversial bill in March that did not include F4A language. Staring down a July 15 deadline, the House and Senate have little time to reconcile their differing approaches to FAA reauthorization, leaving F4A's future in aviation legislation uncertain.

While OOIDA continues to fight against the inclusion of F4A language in a final aviation bill, we recognize its supporters will go to great lengths to see it enacted in 2016. Because it is a top legislative priority for the influential ATA and several of its powerful members, OOIDA has fought, and will continue to fight, aggressively against the inclusion of F4A in any year-end legislation. LL