While states generally are free to enact wage and hour laws providing greater protections than contained in the Fair Labor Standards Act, sometimes such laws run afoul of federal statutes governing particular industries. In a recent decision exemplifying this type of preemption, a judge in the United States District Court of the Southern District of California ruled that the oppressive meal and rest break provisions of the California Labor Code (which will be clarified by the California Supreme Court following oral argument on November 8), conflict with and are preempted by the Federal Aviation Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAA), because the state requirements interfere with interstate commerce. Dilts v. Penske Logistics LLC, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122421 (S.D. Cal. Oct. 19, 2011). This is a significant victory for industry employers as class action lawsuits alleging violation of these requirements have been prevalent in California.

Dilts concerned the meal and rest statute’s interference with the FAAA provision providing that “a State . . . may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier . . . or any motor private carrier, broker, or freight forwarder with respect to the transportation of property.” Id. at * 13 quoting 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1).  California’s strict meal and rest break laws, which the Court characterized as fairly rigid, force drivers to alter their daily routes while searching out appropriate places to pull off the highway and park their vehicles, preventing them from making some daily deliveries. Allowing California to “insist exactly when and for exactly how long carriers provide meal breaks for their employees would allow other states to do the same, and do so differently,” Judge Janis L. Sammartino observed. Id. at * 27.

Navigating the maze of federal, state and local regulation of wage-hour laws is never easy, particularly in heavily regulated industries such as trucking or aviation. Employers in these industries must monitor the status of the law to determine how best to comply with potentially competing provisions on the state and federal level. This decision points that the first step of any analysis is first to determine a statute or regulation’s enforceability.