Confirmed…for now: Motor Carrier overtime exemption no longer applies to small truck drivers

Good news and bad for light-weight vehicle operators. A recent court case from Georgia (Dell’Orfano v. Ikon Office Solutions, Inc.) confirms that truck drivers operating vehicles weighing 10,001 pounds or less in interstate commerce must be paid overtime under the Fair labor Standards Act (FLSA). The first decision since the passage of the 2005 Motor Carrier Safety Reauthorization Act of 2005 (part of August 2005 legislation known as SAFETEA-LU) confirms the effect of that Act. But pending legislation, HR 5576, seeks to undo those changes and reinstate the gap in coverage over light-weight vehicles.

The Secretary of Transportation has long held the authority under the Motor Carrier Act to regulate the maximum hours for drivers of light-weight vehicles. In light of that power, Congress included the Motor Carrier Exemption under FLSA to exempt small truck operators from the overtime requirements of FLSA, so as to avoid conflicting with the Secretary of Transportation’s authority. But neither the Secretary nor the Federal Highway Administration ever exercised that power, choosing instead to focus on maximum hours of operation for medium and large vehicles. This effectively deprived light-weight vehicle drivers of any hours-of-work protections and left the public with greater exposure to the dangers of over-worked small trucks.

SAFETEA-LU corrected that anomaly in 2005 by restricting the Secretary of Transportation’s reach under the Motor Carrier Act. SAFETEA-LU redefined “motor private carrier” under 49 U.S.C. § 13102(15) to be more in line with the Secretary of Transportation’s actual efforts to cover only persons transporting property by “commercial motor vehicle” under 49 U.S.C. § 31132(1), vehicles with a weight of at least 10,001 pounds. This brought the light-weight vehicle operator finally under the protection of FLSA.

But pending legislation could strip away this protection. H.R.5576 was reported out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on July 26, 2006 with language to strike the word “commercial” from in front of “motor vehicle” and treat the provision as though SAFETEA-LU had not been enacted. This would return power to the Secretary over the light-weight vehicle class, and thus likely leave those drivers once again without protection. Whether or not this legislation passes, it clearly will affect many truck drivers and their employers in Massachusetts and states nationwide.

Of course, Massachusetts law remains unchanged, exempting from overtime all drivers and helpers on trucks, and should be considered in evaluating any overtime claims.

In the meantime, if you drive a light-weight vehicle (less than 10,001 pounds) and your employer fails or refuses to pay you overtime, give us a call..