A federal court in California just told Walmart that it needs to pay truck drivers for rest breaks
Walmart truck drivers in California are eligible for a serious payday.
On January 6, a three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a $54.6 million jury win for Walmart’s truck drivers in California. The decision upholds a district court decision from a 2016 trial.
The retail giant is also a trucking giant; it maintains its own private fleet of 9,000 truck drivers. These truck drivers are also famously well-compensated; the median salary for Walmart truckers is around double that of the national median.
Still, the Ninth Circuit, which is based in San Francisco and oversees much of the Western US, says Walmart violated the law when it didn’t pay truck drivers for rest breaks and other non-driving time.
America’s 1.8 million long-haul truck drivers spend weeks away from home — sleeping, eating, and working in their trucks. They’re legally capped at working 70 hours for an eight-day period.
Nationwide, truckers are required to take a 30-minute break during their workday and not drive for more than 11 hours in a day. But that rest time isn’t usually paid — because truckers are usually paid per mile, not per hour.
Increasingly, federal judges are saying that violates labor law. In January 2019, a federal judge in Arkansas affirmed that trucking giant PAM Transport violated federal labor laws when it didn’t pay its 3,000 truck-driver employees at least minimum wage for every non- sleeping hour spent in their truck.
Walmart says it stands by its pay practices, and will consider appealing the Ninth Circuit opinion. Because the case is still within the judicial process, Walmart has not yet paid the $54.6 million to the drivers.
“We continue to believe that our truck drivers are paid in compliance with California law and often in excess of what California law requires,” a Walmart spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider.”We are proud that our drivers are among the best paid in the industry, earning, on average, between $80,000 to over $100,000 per year. We are reviewing the 9th Circuit’s opinion and will explore our options.”
The courts and federal lawmakers are butting heads when it comes to paying truck drivers for rest breaks
The Ninth Circuit opinion also points to other recent court cases in favor of truck drivers securing pay for every hour they spend on the road. In 2017, a Nebraska court decided that trucking giant Werner Enterprises must pay out a total of $780,000 to 52,000 student truck drivers after the company was accused of pay practice violations. Another major carrier, C.R. England, paid $2.35 million in back wages to more than 6,000 drivers in 2016.
Meanwhile, federal regulators are revising court decisions that would pay truck drivers more.
In December 2018, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) said that California trucking companies don’t need to provide paid rest and meal breaks for truck driver employees who drive in and outside of California.
The agency alleged that rest breaks have upped the accident rates along the California-Oregon border, because those drivers cannot find parking. It also said rest breaks are bad for the economy.
“California’s extra rules reduce productivity and are a drag on the economy,” then-FMSCA Administrator Ray Martinez said. “Every bit of loss productivity increases costs to consumers and hurts hard-working American families.”
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