Federal court in Arkansas rules drivers should be compensated for time in sleeper berth

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line associate editor | Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Truck drivers, who work a 24-hour shift, should be compensated for the hours spent waiting in the sleeper berth, according to an Oct. 19 decision by a U.S. District Court judge in the Western District of Arkansas.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Brooks denied a motion by an Arkansas trucking company, PAM Transport, to dismiss claims by three truck drivers – David Browne, Antonio Caldwell and Lucretia Hall – and a class of 3,000 who accused PAM of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Arkansas minimum wage law.

The plaintiffs cited Department of Labor regulations that state:

“Where an employee is required to be on-duty for 24 hours or more, the employer and employee may agree to exclude bona fide meal periods and a bona fide regularly scheduled sleeping period of not more than 8 hours worked, provided adequate sleeping facilities are furnished by the employer, and the employee can usually enjoy an uninterrupted night’s sleep. If sleeping period is of more than 8 hours, only 8 hours will be credited. Where no expressed or implied agreement to the contrary is present, the 8 hours of sleeping time and lunch periods constitute work.”

PAM contended that it is legally permissible to exclude all time that a driver spends in a truck’s sleeper berth, regardless of whether that amount of time exceeds 8 hours within a 24-hour shift. PAM also cited a Department of Transportation regulation that prohibits commercial truck drivers from being on-duty for more than 14 hours in a 24-hour period.

“However, this Court believes those DOT regulations have little, if any, bearing on the matter at hand,” Judge Brooks wrote. “They are a different set of regulations from the DOL regulations under discussion, promulgated pursuant to different statutes and concerned with different policy aims. The DOT regulations aim to make our roads safe, while the DOL regulations aim to provide workers adequate compensation.”

The DOL regulation is clear, Brooks added.

“That regulation tells us exactly how to determine whether sleeping time is compensable – and the analysis has nothing to do with whether the employee is driving or riding in a truck.”

While the motion by PAM Transport was denied, the case is not over.

“The ruling, what it does is that it held that when we’re going to determine how many hours a truck driver works we’re not going to rely on the DOT definitions of on-duty and off-duty,” Justin Swidler, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told Land Line Now. “The reason we’re not going to is because there is a recognition by this court, consistent with the Department of Labor’s interpretation over the years, that drivers can give a lot more time to a company than when they’re on-duty.”

The decision establishes that truck drivers should be paid at least the federal minimum wage for every hour worked, including time in the sleeper berth, during a given week. However, Swidler said the ruling isn’t as groundbreaking as some might think.

“There’s a principle that the case establishes, which we think is important and every truck driver knows, that it is not being off of work when you’re stuck in a truck overnight guarding a load in a tiny sleeper berth,” Swidler said. “That is not your time. You are not with your family. That is not time for your own activities. This case recognizes that. Conceptually, I think that is very important. Unfortunately, minimum wage is only $7.25 per hour. At such a low rate, even if you work 100 hours then you are owed only $725. We hope most truck drivers are making more than that.”

Truck drivers are typically paid by the mile rather than by the hour.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association spoke out against motor carriers that claim there is a driver shortage but compensate their drivers less than the federal minimum wage.

“Demands and responsibilities for drivers have increased, but pay has not kept up by any stretch of the imagination,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer said. “And on top of that, by only paying truckers for miles driven, it encourages customers to waste drivers’ time at loading docks. This inefficiency is nothing new in trucking, but it should not continue to pass as a business model. It’s unacceptable that carriers pay drivers the equivalent of less than minimum wage and then complain about a so-called driver shortage.”

It is unclear how long it will take before the case against PAM Transport is finalized.

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