Today, Republican Congressman John Boozman, whose district includes Wal-Mart's Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters, is sponsoring an amendment to a pending highway bill (H.R. 3, The Transportation Equity Act) that would extend the workday for truckers from 14 hours to 16 hours, provided that the trucker takes an unpaid two-hour break during the shift.
According to an AP report, Boozman claims that the breaks "will reduce driver layovers and improve both safety and efficiency." At a news conference on Tuesday, Teamsters vice-president John Murphy announced that the union has never received even a single complaint that union drivers do not have time for breaks. Current rules limit driver workdays to 14 hours, with a maximum of 11 consecutive hours of driving. Therefore, truckers can take up to three hours for loading and offloading their trucks, and/or eating and taking other mid-shift breaks.
Why would the Wal-Mart Congressman (Boozman's campaign received $48,152 in contributions from Wal-Mart employees during the last election, after getting $44,500 in the prior election) want such a change? Adding to the workday and inserting two-hour unpaid breaks means that retailers can have truckers spend more off-the-clock time waiting at loading docks. That helps Wal-Mart save labor costs.
But labor unions and highway safety experts say that the added hours of work would make roadways more dangerous. Drivers could be forced to work shifts such as 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., or 8 a.m. to midnight. Since many collective bargaining agreements permit employers to require trucker to work any shifts permissible under federal law, the change could quickly move many truckers into the new work hours. Putting those truckers, already fatigued at the end of 14 hour days, back on road for 2 more hours each day is a clear threat to the safety of truckers and those who share the highways with them.
Wal-Mart, which makes about $20,000 per minute in profits, and pays most store employees less wages than necessary to keep a family of three above the proverty level, continues to be the enemy of the working class. We hope that the Boozman Amendment to the House highway spending bill fails as quickly as the Santorum Amendment to the Senate bankruptcy bill.
[UPDATE: The proposed amendment lasted just ten minutes on the House floor before Boozman saw the light and withdrew it.]