In the run-up to the holidays, Congress rushed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to President Obama's desk entitled the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015. The omnibus spending bill, nicknamed "CRomnibus," avoided another government shutdown and funded most federal agencies (save for the Department of Homeland Security) through the federal government's 2015 fiscal year, which ends on September 30, 2015. As with many omnibus spending bills, Congress buried in the CRomnibus a number of actions intended to restrict federal agencies’ activities and, in some cases, to make substantial changes to existing laws. Of particular note to readers of this blog, both the Department of Labor and the trucking industry came out winners in the wage and hour world. CRomnibus increased funding for the Department of Labor and several of its subagencies, and handed motor carriers a temporary reprieve from the FMCSA's 2013 maximum hours-of-work regulations.
Congress Increases DOL Funding Across the Board in 2015
CRomnibus allocated an additional $3.17 million to the DOL's Wage and Hour Division, for a total 2015 budget of $227.5 million. OSHA received a small increase as well, with a bump up from $552.247 million in 2014 to $552.787 million in 2015. But the big winner in the CRomnibus was the Office of Federal Compliance Contract Programs (OFCCP). Congress authorized an extra $41.5 million ($106.476 million total) in 2015 to OFCCP. All three agencies received less than what the Obama administration had sought, but still fared better than agencies like the NLRB that had their budgets frozen or cut.
Motor Carriers Win Roll Back of Maximum Hours of Work Regulations
Congress also included language that is a big win for the trucking industry. A CRomnibus rider added by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) includes language that suspends the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) 2013 maximum hours-of-work regulations for property-carrying commercial motor vehicles in 49 C.F.R. Sections 395.3(c) and (d). The American Trucking Association had previously criticized the new service rules as "unjustified" and hailed the Collins Amendment as a "common sense" fix.
Under the appropriations bill, these regulations have no force or effect from December 16, 2014 (the date the bill was enacted) until either September 30, 2015, or the submission of a report on a "naturalistic study of the operational, safety, health and fatigue impacts of the restart provisions in sections 395.3(c) and 395.3(d) of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, on commercial motor vehicle drivers," whichever is later. During the suspension, the former "restart" regulations governing drivers' required hours of rest promulgated by the Bush administration in 2003 will apply instead. Public safety and law enforcement groups, as well as the current Secretary of Transportation, had opposed the suspension.
Congress's decision to suspend these regulations provides the motor carrier industry with significant relief from the two new restrictions in the hours-of-service restart regulations that apply to commercial drivers. Specifically, according to the FMCSA, CRomnibus suspends the requirement that limits qualifying 34-hour restarts to once every 168 hours (7 days) and requires that any driver using the 34-hour restart have two consecutive off periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Instead, drivers need only follow the simple 34-hour restart rule that was part of the regulations between 2003 and 2013.
While it likely was the biggest, the trucking industry wasn't the only wage and hour winner in CRomnibus.