SAN DIEGO — Penske Logistics recently settled a case over wages for meal and rest breaks for $750,000.

The settlement comes after nine years of legal proceedings. The class-action lawsuit was filed by three of the company's drivers alleging that it failed to pay them for all hours worked under California labor laws and failed to pay them for meals and rest breaks.

Richard Pianka, the American Trucking Association's (ATA) vice president and deputy general counsel, told the Northern California Record that there are a handful of cases that cover the same or similar issues.

"This is one case of many, and the fact that it settled doesn't really, I think, say much beyond that's what the parties thought was best for them in that case," Pianka, who is also chief counsel of ATA's litigation center, said. 

The American Trucking Associations told it would continue to fight governments that were requiring interstate truck drivers to take extra meal and rest breaks. California has meal and break requirements for drivers.

Pianka said ATA holds that federal law stops state and local governments from imposing regulations on truckers.

"Such as a 1994 law that pre-empts any state or local law that relates to the prices, routes or services of any motor carrier; it's a very broad pre-emption provision," Pianka said. "The Supreme Court has interpreted it broadly in many contexts in the past, and these California break rules very directly affect the routes and services of motor carriers. It dictates what level of service a given driver can provide within the broader constraints of the federal rules governing hours of service."

Pianka feels the California break rules reduces the service drivers can provide in the state.

"Restricts routes to routes on which facilities (where) breaks are available," he said. "Most courts that looked at this agreed that the 1994 law pre-empted these California rules, and that, we think, is the core issue here. Unfortunately, one court, in particular the 9th Circuit, disagreed and interpreted that 1994 law very narrowly, in our view, and held that it didn't pre-empt these state rules."

Pianka said ATA filed amicus briefs in the dispute.

"We also filed an amicus brief when Penske sought Supreme Court review of the 9th Circuit's decision," he said.

Pianka said ATA thinks Congress needs to correct the 9th Circuit's decision.

"Congress had deregulated the trucking industry at the federal level back in 1980," Pianka said. "They wanted the industry to be shaped primarily by market forces with uniform federal safety regulation under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Transportation, of course. And it saw over the intervening years that the states were still regulating the industry in a way that was interfering with those market forces, interfering with the uniformity provided by federal safety regulation. That's why they passed the 1994 law. And these state break rules, if they're not pre-empted, will make it impossible for motor carriers to provide the services that the federal government has decided that they can safely provide."

The final decision on the settlement will take place Monday.

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