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Editorial Board

Congress needs to shift legislation out

Congress needs to shift a certain piece of legislation into park — and it needs to do so quickly.

Several media, including CNN, reported March 9 that Wal-Mart, several retailers and other industries support a proposal to extend truckers’ workdays by giving them unpaid time off during the day. Those media also reported that safety and labor groups have urged Congress to reject that proposal.

This editorial board urges the same thing.

No matter what Wal-Mart and other retail companies want, truck drivers’ work hours per day should not be extended. The risks of doing so outweigh the benefits.

The planned amendment to the six-year highway and transit bill may be offered during debate tomorrow. It would permit companies to schedule their drivers more than a 16-hour period each day, adding two unpaid hours to the 14 hours now paid.

Although maximum driving time would remain at 11 hours, the legislation should not be shown a green light.

Currently, drivers work 14-hour days and may drive for a mandated 11 consecutive hours, according to the Associated Press. Thus, they have three hours to eat, rest, load and unload their trucks.

At a recent news conference, John Murphy, the union’s vice president, said the International Brotherhood of Teamsters “hasn’t gotten one complaint from drivers saying they don’t have time for a break or a meal.”

Thus, two additional hours are not necessary.

With the additional hours, drivers could end up starting their workday at 8 a.m. and quitting at midnight, said Joan Claybrook, president of the safety advocacy group Public Citizen. She later called the proposal “a sweatshop-on-wheels amendment.”

She is right.

It is not fair to add hours to the truck drivers’ days without paying them for those hours. Break time or no break time, if legislation will require men and women to be away from their families and away from their homes for two additional hours, those hours should be paid.

Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota recently asserted that the amendment is supported by companies that employ short-haul drivers and that these companies would like to be able to ask drivers to go off the clock while they wait at loading docks or do other job-related tasks. This should not be permitted. Even if truckers are simply waiting, they are waiting for their job, not for their health or amusement, and thus should be paid for such time.

Although a Wal-Mart statement said the proposal would not increase driving time or the amount of required time off between shifts, the rule change — if passed — would compromise the safety of many by increasing driver fatigue. Whether off-the-clock or on-the-clock, 16 hours is still more than 14 hours. When federal statistics show that almost 5,000 people die annually in truck-related crashes on U.S. roads, attention must be given to how the proposed legislation will affect truck drivers.

Change does, indeed, need to occur. As reported by CNN, current regulations were struck down by a federal court last year as insensitive to driver health. But change should not come in work-hour extensions. It should come in listening to the drivers themselves and traveling forward from there.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board, whose members are listed to the left.