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Transportation Brief: Labor Meets Transportation in Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bills

by Gregory M. Feary, Prasad Sharma

August 25, 2021

After a one-year extension last fall, Congress is making progress, albeit in fits and starts, towards passing a multiyear surface transportation reauthorization bill. Both versions of these massive bills not only authorize highway spending, but also contain numerous policy-related provisions aimed at trucking.

At the time of this writing, the full House has passed its version of policy-related provisions (H.R. 3684) and the Senate has passed its version, known as the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The Senate provisions will now have to go to the House to reconcile the differences between the two versions. While the future of the legislation and the final provisions are uncertain, now is a good time to look at what may be coming down the road.

Carriers utilizing lease-purchase agreements may be wary of provisions in both bills that direct the Secretary of Transportation, in conjunction with the Secretary of Labor, to establish a Truck Leasing Task Force to examine truck leasing agreements, including lease-purchase agreements, and whether their terms are “predatory” (House) or “inequitable” (Senate). The House version specifically directs an examination of the classification of drivers under lease-purchase agreements, while the Senate version places more emphasis on how the terms affect maintenance and safe operation of vehicles. Ultimately, the Task Force is to issue a report with its findings and include recommendations on best practices and changes to laws at the federal, state, or local levels to promote “fair leasing agreements” that allow drivers to “earn a living wage.” Because provisions are in both bills – although not identical – some form is likely to become law.

Perpetuating the novel intersection of labor and transportation, the House version requires consideration of an applicant’s compliance with “applicable labor and employment laws and regulations, including wage and hour and workplace safety laws and regulations, relevant to the safe operation of a motor carrier” when granting or denying motor carrier authority. Another House provision would direct a rulemaking to establish limits on the amount of time a driver can be detained without the driver being compensated for such detention.
In a measure supported by some in the industry but opposed by many, the House version would increase the minimum liability insurance amounts from $750,000 to $2 million and provides for automatic inflation adjustments every five years thereafter. On the positive side, there is a Senate provision that directs the establishment of a pilot apprenticeship program under which drivers aged between 18 and 21 could engage in interstate operations.

The highway bill is critical to the trucking industry. Congressional deliberations throughout the remainder of the summer and fall hope to produce a necessary bill – whichever policy provisions make the final cut.

 


Scopelitis’ Transportation Brief® is intended as a report to our clients and friends on developments affecting the transportation industry. The published material does not constitute an exhaustive legal study and should not be regarded or relied upon as individual legal advice or opinion.

 

 
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