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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Arkansas Court Rules Drivers Be Paid Minimum Wage Even When Not Driving 

A federal court decision in Arkansas may drastically change the way truck drivers are paid.

The court ruled against PAM Transport, an Arkansas trucking company founded in 1980, after the firm was named in a class action suit for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, a federal law that requires employers to pay truck drivers at least minimum wage.

On Oct. 19, the US District Court in the Western District of Arkansas, Fayetteville division, denied PAM’s motions to dismiss the claims of the three truck drivers who sued PAM in 2016 and nearly 3,000 drivers who joined the class action suit.

That denial means that the Court has decided that the time a driver spends waiting in his truck in the sleeper birth still constitutes work — even though the driver may log that time as “off-duty.”

Rulings such as these appear to be gaining momentum. Last year, a Nebraska court decided that trucking giant Werner Enterprises must pay $780,000 to 52,000 student truck drivers for alleged pay practice violations. Another major carrier, C.R. England, paid $2.35 million in back wages to more than 6,000 drivers in 2016.

Unlike most workers who are paid per hour or in a yearly salary, long-haul truck drivers are typically only paid per mile of driving. However, they spend weeks on the road for work and hours every day doing non-driving work tasks.

Truck drivers may be on duty a maximum of 14 hours in a day, with a maximum of 11 hours spent driving. They are expected to wait up to two hours when unloading or loading shipments but are not paid for those hours.

Justin Swidler, the attorney representing the truck drivers in the PAM case, said that truck drivers might also spend unpaid hours or days not driving because they are waiting for shipments.

The Arkansas decision suggests that drivers are entitled to minimum wage for 16 hours per workday — every hour spent in the truck save for eight hours of sleep time. That’s because the company has hired the employee with the knowledge that part of their job duties is waiting.

It becomes clear that an employer must count the time that an employee spends riding in a commercial truck while neither sleeping nor eating as hours worked.

“The decision may have national implications,” Swidler said.

This case doesn’t necessarily mean the mile-based trucker pay model will be overhauled. But, it does suggest that, if a trucker isn’t paid at least minimum wage for the 60 hours a week they work, carriers will be held accountable.

“It’s worth noting the case only stands for the proposition that carriers must pay their drivers $7.25 per hour,” Swidler said. “Under the FLSA, hourly wages are considered over the course of a whole workweek. This means that while carriers nationwide should understand their minimum wage exposure, companies which pay reasonable wages to their drivers have no reason for concern.”