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Court says team truckers must be paid for sleeper berth time over eight hours

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A U.S. Appeals Court recently ruled that truckers must be paid for sleeper berth time over eight hours under federal labor law.

On December 12, 2023, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit sided with a group of truckers led by Juan Carlos Montoya in their years-long legal battle against CRST Expedited and CRST International.

The truckers argued that CRST violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by failing to pay them for time spent in the sleeper berth over eight hours in a twenty-four hour period. The eight hours is considered a non-compensable sleeping period.

The lawsuit argued that for team truckers, sleeper berth time would be considered “on duty” under the FLSA and should therefore be compensated time. The truckers said that if sleeper berth time counted towards hours worked, then drivers would fall below hourly minimum wage standards.

The court found that CRST’s team driving business model benefits from the fact that drivers are confined within the sleeper berth beyond their eight hours sleeping period:

The fact that the drivers are typically traveling during time spent in the sleeper berth also suggests that such time is for CRST’s benefit, given the importance of continuous travel to CRST’s business. CRST’s team driving approach, requiring drivers to trade on and off their driving and non- driving times until they arrive at their destination, allows CRST’s trucks to remain in near continuous motion while complying with DOT regulations limiting drivers’ hours behind the wheel. CRST benefits enormously from the team driving model as the company makes its deliveries in approximately half the time that it would take a solo driver to complete the same trip. Indeed, CRST understands the necessity of drivers’ sleeper berth time to the company’s bottom line, explaining that its team driving model allows it to “get twice the utilization out of the truck and keep that cargo moving . . . twenty hours a day or more.” Such speed of travel is made possible only by the resting driver resetting their driving hours in the sleeper berth while their teammate continues to drive.

The court also found that while truckers are free to perform leisure activities during their sleeper berth time, this time is compromised by the nature of their work:

Although CRST recognizes that employees are confined to the sleeper berth, it repeatedly emphasizes that the drivers may use the sleeper berth time for personal activities such as eating, watching movies, and connecting to the internet, making such time predominantly for the drivers’ benefit. Somewhat implausibly, CRST contends that drivers can do “anything . . . they [have] a mind to do” during their sleeper berth time.

CRST’s argument turns a blind eye to the limitations inherent in the drivers’ physical location. Though drivers may be able to engage in some leisure activities, the nature of these activities is restricted by the drivers’ presence in the sleeper berth of a moving truck — a small space, containing only some basic living essentials, that drivers cannot leave until the truck stops moving. The minimum height of the sleeper berth is a mere 24 inches as measured from the top of the mattress installed in the berth, see 49 C.F.R. § 393.76(a)(1), meaning that drivers may struggle to stand or even sit up in bed in the sleeper berth. The driver in the sleeper berth is also in constant proximity to the noise of the truck’s engine, further reducing drivers’ ability to sleep, relax, or engage in leisure activities of their choice. In short, CRST’s argument that the drivers’ time is their own because they can use it as they wish is unpersuasive considering the drivers’ physical confinement in a restrictive space that is ill-equipped for many activities.

The court also found that sleeper berth time is a burden on the driver that benefits his or her employer:

While the record does not contain examples of drivers’ sleeper berth time being interrupted for work, the nature of the team driving setup means that the driving teammate may call on the resting teammate to provide emergency assistance, even during the mandated ten-hour period defined as “off-duty” by the DOT regulations. See 49 C.F.R. § 395.1(b)(2) (providing that, in “emergency conditions,” a driver may complete the shipment even if the driving time falls outside of the maximum driving time “without being in violation of the provisions of the regulations”). The discomfort of being confined in a small and noisy space, as well as the possibility of interruptions, suggest that the sleeper berth time presents more than a “minimal burden” on drivers. See Singh, 524 F.3d at 368. Considering the restrictions that sleeper berth time places on drivers and its centrality to CRST’s team driving model, we conclude that such time predominantly benefits the employer.

The court ultimately concluded that “we hold that employees’ time spent in the sleeper berth that exceeds eight hours per day is compensable work under the FLSA.”

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