Oilfield workers driving trucks under 10,000 lbs may be due overtime

Oilfield workers often travel from job site to job site driving both commercial and full-size trucks.  Oilfield companies often refuse to pay oilfield workers overtime, claiming that they are exempt under what is known as the “Motor Carrier Exemption,” which generally exempts drivers, loaders or others involved in operating large trucks, from overtime pay.

A federal court in Houston recently was faced with the issue of whether oilfield workers who drove large commercial trucks as well as vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds were exempt from overtim pay.  The defendant in the case was Warrior Energy Services Corp., an oilfield services company.  Sixty six current or former Warrior employees joined the lawsuit.  These plaintiffs’ jobs involved servicing oil wells in North Dakota, Montana, and other states undergoing the oil boom.  Warrior filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the oilfield employees were exempt from overtime pay.  The summary judgment arguments and evidence focused on whether, how often, and under what circumstances Plaintiffs operated Ford F-250 pickup trucks. This is critical, because, as explained below, Plaintiffs’ eligibility for FLSA overtime pay depends on their use of “motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less.” See SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-244, § 306(c), 122 Stat. 1572.

Warrior argued that Plaintiffs’ job duties involved primarily operating large trucks which weighed more than 10,000 pounds.  However, Plaintiffs argued that they commonly drove F-250 trucks as part of their jobs.  It was not disputed that Warrior’s Ford F-250s, operated without an attached trailer, fall at or below the threshold weight of 10,000 pounds.

Plaintiffs sued for overtime wages under the FLSA, which requires that employees be paid one and one half times their regular rate of pay for hours worked over forty in a workweek. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a). The Motor Carrier Act (MCA) exemption, however, exempts from the FLSA’s overtime requirements “any employee with respect to whom the Secretary of Transportation has power to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1). Under the SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-244, 122 Stat. 1572 (TCA), Congress “both restored”—and therefore widened—”the scope of the Secretary of Transportation’s regulatory jurisdiction . . . and simultaneously narrowed the scope of the MCA exemption.” Vanzzini, 995 F. Supp. 2d at 715. It accomplished the latter by broadening the FLSA overtime requirement to “covered employee[s] notwithstanding” the MCA exemption. See TCA § 306(a); McMaster v. E. Armored Servs., Inc., ___ F.3d ___, 2015 WL 1036035, at *2 (3d Cir. Mar. 11, 2015) (`”[C]overed employees’ are entitled to overtime.”). The statute goes on to define “covered employee” as “an individual”

(1) who is employed by a motor carrier or motor private carrier . . .

(2) whose work, in whole or in part, is defined—

(A) as that of a driver, driver’s helper, loader, or mechanic; and

(B) as affecting the safety of operation of motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less in transportation on public highways in interstate or foreign commerce . . . and

(3) who performs duties on motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less.

TCA § 306(c) (emphasis added).

In the Warrior case, the Plaintiffs conceded that without the TCA, the MCA exemption would apply to them and they thus would not be entitled to overtime wages. However, the parties disagreed vigorously about the applicability of the TCA’s definition of “covered employee” to Plaintiffs. In particular, focused on the type and amount of work on “motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less” that is sufficient to trigger FLSA coverage for drivers who would otherwise be exempted from the law by the MCA, and whether that work constituted Plaintiff’s “duties.”

The Court, in deciding the dispute between the parties, noted that even the cases cited by Warrior after the enactment of the TCA had concluded that any meaningful use of lighter vehicles entitles employees to overtime under the FLSA regardless of how often they also work with heavy trucks.

The Court also noted that the Department of Labor has endorsed this view, noting in a guidance document that “even in weeks where employees worked on vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds (and thus were subject to Department of Transportation regulations), those employees would still be entitled to overtime if they worked on vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds.” Hernandez v. Alpine Logistics, LLC, 2011 WL 3800031, at *5 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 29, 2011) (discussing Department of Labor, Wage & Hour Division, Fact Sheet #19 (Nov. 2009), available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs19.pdf).

The Court thus adopted the reasoning of these authorities, holding that “[b]ecause the TCA extends FLSA coverage to motor carrier employees whose work, even ‘in part,’ ‘affect[s] the safety of operation of motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less,’ the law does not exclude a motor carrier employee from FLSA coverage merely because his or her work also involves operating heavier vehicles.”

The second issue for the Court to decide was whether there “is a minimum threshold of the type or amount of work that employees must perform on vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less before the TCA affords them FLSA overtime coverage.”  Warrior relied on two courts in the Southern District of Texas which had stated that  a covered employee under the TCA “must perform some meaningful work for more than an insubstantial time with vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less.”, Lucas v. NOYPI, Inc., 2012 WL 4754729, at *9 (S.D. Tex. Oct. 3, 2012);, Allen v. Coil Tubing Services, L.L.C., 846 F. Supp. 2d 678, 689 (S.D. Tex. 2012) aff’d, 755 F.3d 279 (5th Cir. 2014).  The Plaintiffs argued that there was no “meaningful work” requirement in the TCA, and relied on another case from the Southern District of Texas which suggested as much.  Vanzzini v. Action Meat Distribs., Inc., 2014 WL 426494 (S.D. Tex. Jan. 31, 2014).  The Court, in deciding the issue for the purposes of the summary judgment motion, stated that the “meaningful work” standard, as applied by other district courts, “seems to require no more than that covered employees’ work on vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less be more than de minimis.”

The Court analyzed the evidence submitted by both sides and concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support a finding that the Plaintiffs’ performed more than de minimus work on vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds, and thus were covered under the TCA, and thus entitled to overtime pay.  As such, the Court denied Warrior’s motion for summary judgment.

If you are an oilfield worker who regularly works more than forty hours per week without receiving overtime pay, consult an experienced overtime attorney to learn your legal rights.

About the author: Josh Borsellino is a Texas attorney who represents workers to get them the overtime pay they deserve.   For a free consultation, call 817.908.9861 or 432.242.7118 or complete this online contact form.

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