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The Federal And State Governments Have Trucking On Their Mind

There has been a lot of movement in the last month where trucking is concerned. In the latest from Washington, three Republican Senators have introduced a companion bill to the DRIVE-Safe Act that was put forward in the House of Representatives earlier this year. The companion bill would lower the age requirement for new interstate truck drivers to 18 years old under specific conditions. The bill was proposed by Senators Todd Young (R-IN), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Jim Inhofe (R-OK).

Called the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act, the companion bill would create a new training program that would allow someone under 21 who holds a CDL for intrastate driving to use that same license for interstate driving. The bill essentially would create an apprenticeship training program that would uptrain young truck drivers on safely operating commercial motor vehicles. The standard set for this safety training would go beyond what is in place today.

The program would require younger truck drivers to complete a minimum of 400 hours of on-duty truck driving time and 240 hours of driving time. Of course, the driving time would have to be accompanied by an experienced truck driver. The program also requires that vehicles used in the program be equipped with safety technology. The technology required would include:

  • Active braking;
  • Collision mitigation system;
  • Video event recording system, and;
  • A speed governor set to 65 mph and below.

According to a statement by Senator Inhofe, the program would expand the opportunity for young truck drivers to participate in interstate commerce, providing them with a stable career option while also helping to address the ongoing truck driver shortage.

With the DRIVE-Safe Act having already addressed the issue of allowing younger truck drivers to operate across state lines, this new companion bill merely expands on the work previously completed. While this is all happening in the halls of Congress, the Department of Transportation has announced a pilot program that would let military veterans with the equivalent of a CDL (for use in military vehicles) to bypass the current federal age limit.

Several trucking advocacy and trade organizations have voiced their support for the bill, with the most notable being the American Trucking Associations (ATA). Yet, not everyone is on board. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has teamed up with several trucking safety organizations to oppose the bill. Specifically, they state that allowing interstate truck drivers under 21 would decrease overall road safety and would not fix the major problems plaguing the industry.

Congress Aims to Expand Education Opportunities

In other news from Capitol Hill, Congress has passed a bill that would expand support for career and technical education opportunities for potential truck drivers. It would also give states more control over specific program requirements and how the programs are implemented. Unlike so many things in Congress these days, the Senate passed this legislation on July 25 with bipartisan support.

Introduced by Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), it would expand support for state career and technical education programs designed to assist high school students in preparing for careers in many industries, including trucking. Called the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, the bill essentially reauthorizes a bill passed in 2006, which provides funds for students who are looking for a career-oriented education after high school, as opposed to going straight into university. The program helps to feed bright new talent into specific vocations and fields. With President Trump having tweeted his support for the bill, it is expected that it will be signed and passed into law.

The main thrust of the bill would provide greater control to states and local governments in how training programs are created. It would also open up new avenues of funding for such programs, this releasing state’s dependence on the federal government for program funding. Finally, the bill would outline the requirements state must set for performance measures and eligibility for the programs and help determine whether the programs offered align with the job demands of their local market.

To be eligible for the program, states will be required to use a minimum of 90% of the federal funds allotment form the prior year. If they don’t, new allotments will be reduced. Still, states will be able to decide how they use the funds and whether the funds will boost existing programs or go to funding new programs.

With the Department of Labor estimating that a meager 0.3% of American workers entering apprenticeship programs, there is plenty of room for the states to use these funds to grow their vocational training base. It also helps states target students coming right out of high school, which answers the problem of the average trade school student being 28 years old.

The Trump administration has made apprenticeships a priority, mainly to address a jobs gap shortage in vocational fields that have high demand. With the unemployment rate currently at historically low levels, workplace competition is fierce. There has also been a renewed focus on manufacturing and trades jobs, so for the economy to continue to grow, U.S. workers and students will need to learn and acquire the skills they need to succeed, rather than those that won’t land them a job in some of the most in-demand corners of the job market.

With Congress coming together to create better opportunities for and educational pathways for potential trades students, many believe this bill represents an important investment in the future of our nation’s students. Once signed into law by President Trump, we should see continued movement towards the expansion of jobs in vocational trades for the American worker.

Meanwhile, in California

While the Trump administration and Congress attempt to address the truck driver shortage, in California a fight is brewing between the Western States Trucking Association and the California Supreme Court. The ruling passed by the California Supreme Court would make it difficult – and some within the industry say near impossible – for transportation companies to hire independent contractor truck drivers.

The ruling stemmed from a case where the California Supreme Court decided that a delivery service company has misclassified their truck drivers as independent contractors instead of employees, all with an eye on cutting costs. Essentially, the ruling would place the burden of proof on the transportation company to prove that their truck driver is properly classified.

The way a motor carrier would have to do this is through what would be called an “ABC” test. This test would require companies to prove that someone they have classified as an independent contractor is:

  1. Not under the control and direction of a hiring entity;
  2. That the work being done is not similar to the majority of work done at a hiring entity;
  3. That the worker is customarily engaged in similar work, but in an independent context.

Some say the ruling could have a knock-on effect on other industries, such as Uber, or even legitimate owner-operators. Of course, the issue was meant to address a recurring misclassification issue at California ports, but there is a fear it could go much farther in who it impacts should it go into full effect.

According to a statement released by the director of government affairs and communications for the WSTA, the issue is less about port truck drivers, although their situation will be used to put a huge hole in the independent contractor model. He referred to this specifically as a “false narrative.”

Opponents of the appeal are seeking a legislative review of the bill, although California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon stated such a thing is unlikely to happen this year, considering the California legislature’s current session closed at the end of August.

The WSTA argues that the ruling could dismantle the work model that owner-operators use to choose who they work for and what work they take on. With the WSTA filing suit to challenge the ruling, they also held a rally at the California State Capitol building in Sacramento on August 15. Will it have any effect on the ruling? That all depends on the appeal.

Ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft are also lobbying state politicians to do something about the ruling. Even the California Chamber of Commerce has weighed in on the issue, calling for the state to stop the new standard from going into effect, or, at the minimum, limit its reach so as not to cause a knock-on effect for other industries.

On the other side of the argument, proponents of the ruling say the current independent contractor model allows trucking companies to pay less than minimum wage, avoid paying overtime benefits, and miss out on taxes that could be collected from their workers, who may be misclassified. However you look at it, this is gearing up to be a big battle, and whether the California legislature takes action on reviewing the ruling, interested parties have made their feelings known on the matter. At this point, only time will tell how it will all shake out.

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