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California Fights Trump Administration on Bus Driver Break Rules

California has asked the Ninth Circuit to block a Trump administration decision that prevents the state from enforcing its stricter meal and rest break labor rules for bus drivers.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – California has asked the Ninth Circuit to block a Trump administration decision that prevents the state from enforcing its stricter meal and rest break labor rules for bus drivers.

The dispute stems from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Jan. 21 decision granting an industry group’s petition to find the federal Motor Carrier Safety Act pre-empts California’s labor laws as they apply to bus drivers.

The American Bus Association, which represents bus companies, petitioned the administration to block California’s meal and rest break laws in January 2019. The group says the state’s more stringent requirements “undermine existing federal fatigue management rules” and “require drivers to take breaks that might be counterproductive to safety.”

In a petition filed Thursday, California asked the Ninth Circuit to reverse the Jan. 21 decision.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Friday that the decision could result in bus drivers unsafely working up to 10 hours straight without a break.

“Bus drivers, like all California workers, deserve the right to access basic labor protections, including sufficient meal and rest breaks,” Becerra said. “The FMCSA’s pre-emption decision threatens the pocketbooks of our working families and will make our roads less safe for everyone.”

Although the administration has legal authority to pre-empt certain state laws that affect commercial vehicle drivers, the state argues that its meal and rest break rules are “broadly applicable workplace standards” that do not fall under that category.

California workers are generally entitled to a 30-minute meal break for shifts of five hours or more and a 10-minute break per four hours of work.

FMCSA safety regulations allow bus drivers to work shifts of up to 15 hours without a break, which can include 10 hours of driving. The agency did not respond to an email request for comment.

Fatigue-related crashes in the United States cost an estimated $109 billion annually, according to a 2015 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Another study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found drowsy drivers cause an average 328,000 crashes per year, including 109,000 resulting injuries and 6,400 fatal accidents.

California Labor Commissioner Lillian García-Brower said her office has long fought to defend meal and rest periods as part of a basic framework to protect the health and welfare of California workers.

“This decision turns back the clock nearly a century and is detrimental for the affected bus drivers, their passengers, and those who share the roadway with fatigued drivers,” Garcia-Brower said in a statement Friday.

The state maintains its labor protections benefit workers in all industries, including commercial driving. Becerra said California’s rules are vital for ensuring drivers are sufficiently rested to minimize the dangers of driver fatigue.

“California labor laws are integral to the well-being of our economy and to the hardworking people of our state,” Becerra said.

This isn’t the first time Becerra has challenged a Trump administration decision to pre-empt the state’s labor rules for commercial drivers. In February 2019, he filed another petition asking the Ninth Circuit to overturn an FMCSA decision finding federal law also prevents the state from enforcing its labor laws for truck drivers.

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