Angry California truck drivers are slamming a new rule that requires them to take unpaid rest breaks, one calling the change a 'travesty' for safety

ca trucker
ca trucker

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  • Truck drivers in California are no longer legally required to receive paid rest breaks.

  • Under federal law, they are legally required to rest for 30 minutes a day during their 14-hour workdays.

  • Truck drivers say they're against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ruling. One called it a "travesty."

California truck drivers learned a few days before Christmas that they won't be paid for their rest breaks anymore.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) said on December 21 that California trucking companies don't need to provide paid rest and meal breaks for their truck-driver employees.

Previously, truckers were compensated like typical hourly employees in California. State labor laws stipulate that workers get a 30-minute meal break for shifts longer than five hours and mandate that transportation workers rest for 10 minutes every four hours.

Removing that requirement in California got support from the Senate, the House of Representatives, the National Retail Federation, the American Trucking Associations, and a host of other industry groups.

Small fleet owners, such as David Ramsey, president of Ramsey Express Trucking in Stockton, California, are also in favor of the ruling. He said truck drivers should take their breaks when they need to and take responsibility for ensuring their own safety.

"Before the ruling, people were getting sued when these guys didn’t take their breaks," Ramsey told Business Insider. "The ruling actually helps draw the line there between frivolous lawsuits and actual lawsuits."

Ramsey said he and several other small trucking firms were sued over the California break laws.

"The government in California makes it too easy to be irresponsible for yourself," he said.

One group that's staunchly against the FMCSA's ruling are the truck drivers themselves

Southern California resident Brent Crispen, who has been a truck driver since 1974, told Business Insider that removing the paid breaks will cost him $5,000 a year.

"I don't know about anybody else, but this was the first 'raise' I've gotten since 2004, and now they are taking it back," Crispen told Business Insider.

Read more: Truck driver salaries have fallen by as much as 50% since the 1970s — and experts say a little-known law explains why

In 2014, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that carriers in California must ensure truckers get proper rest and meal breaks, just like employees at a typical firm.

Such labor laws are typical in most states — but not in the trucking industry. Nationwide, truckers are required to take a 30-minute break during their workday and not drive for more than 11 hours in a day. That 30-minute break is not paid.

Industry groups, including the American Trucking Associations (ATA), asked the FMCSA to exempt truck drivers from the California's meal and rest break rules. The FMCSA granted those petitions on December 21, citing that federal laws overrule state laws on how and when truckers work.

Desiree Wood, who began trucking in 2007, said not giving paid rest breaks could put the safety of truck drivers and typical drivers at risk.

Truckers who are not properly rested are more likely to get into accidents; 13% of commercial-vehicle drivers who get into accidents are fatigued, according to an FMCSA study. Fatigued drivers, in general, are three times as likely to get into a car accident than well-rested drivers.

"It's really a travesty," Wood, who is also president of Real Women in Trucking, told Business Insider. "It truly defies safety. If you really cared about safety, you would want people on the highway who are not stressed out about their pay and who are well-rested."


Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Declining pay and worsening treatment have become the norm in the trucking industry over the past decades. A Business Insider analysis showed that median wages for truck drivers have decreased 21% on average since 1980. In some areas, they've declined as much as 50%.

The mean 1977 earnings of a unionized truck driver stood at $96,552 in 2018 dollars. In 1974, there were 2,019,300 truckers in Teamsters. Now, there are 75,000.

This year, however, truckers have regained some power in terms of their pay and treatment on the road, because of a shortage of trucking labor. Drivers' salaries saw "unprecedented" jumps in 2018, Gordon Klemp, principal of the National Transportation Institute, said. Some trucking companies have offered bonuses of more than $20,000.

And a ruling in October said Arkansas truckers should be paid minimum wage even when they're engaged in nondriving tasks on the job. That's a major win for drivers, who are typically paid per mile.

But truckers say last week's FMCSA statement indicates that they haven't progressed as much as they thought they did in 2018.

"Decision-making people are making the statement that corporations have more rights than people," Crispen told Business Insider. 

Are you a truck driver who works in California? What do you think of the FMCSA ruling? Email the reporter at

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