The Department of Transportation has expanded its range of exemptions from the hours-of-service regulations for commercial drivers hauling essential supplies during the Coronavirus outbreak.
On March 13, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration granted drivers exemption from Parts 390-399 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which cover hours of service, parts and accessories needed for safe operation, and longer combination vehicles.
FMCSA also said on March 24 that it will not take enforcement action for certain expired commercial driver licenses, learner permits and medical certifications through June 30 because many state DMVs are closed and their employees are at home.
The HOS change covers hauling medical supplies and equipment for testing, diagnosis and treatment, along with items needed for community safety, sanitation and disease prevention, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants.
Also included are food for emergency restocking of stores and equipment, supplies and persons necessary to establish and manage temporary housing, quarantine and isolation facilities.
After a driver returns to a terminal or at some point says immediate rest is needed, at least 10 consecutive hours off duty time must be granted.
In a March 18, announcement, FMCSA expanded the list of exempt items to include fuel, food, paper products and other grocery items for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores.
As was the case previously, also exempted are immediate precursor raw materials, such as paper, plastic or alcohol, that are required and to be used for the manufacture of essential items.
However, the agency stressed that the exemption does not apply to routine commercial deliveries, including mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of the emergency declaration.
Trump Renames NLRB Nominees
On March 5, President Trump renominated two candidates to be members of the National Labor Relations Board
A few weeks later, the currently constituted board issued an order postponing all union elections temporarily while the country is basically shut down in an effort to stem the spread of the Coronavirus.
The board can have up of five presidentially- appointed members serving staggered five-year terms, with one member’s term expiring each year. Three members are supposed to come from the President’s party and two from the opposition party.
However, the Trump administration’s slowness in naming appointees and Democrat foot dragging in the Senate mean the NLRB has not had its full complement of five members since August 2018.
The President named former Obama appointee, Lauren McFerran and current board member Marvin E. Kaplan, whose term expires in August., to new full five-year terms.
McFerran had served a five-year term starting in 2014 and ending December 2019. Before that she served as a Democrat staff director on the U.S. Senate’s Labor Committee.
If both candidates are confirmed by the Senate, the board will then have four members, including the three current Republicans: Chairman John F. Ring, William J. Emanuel and Kaplan.
The current board announced on March 19 that it was suspending all union organizing elections until April 3. NLRB agents typically count mail ballots in front of observers from the union and employer.
The board said the purpose of the suspension is “to ensure the health and safety of our employees, as well as those members of the public who are involved in the election process.”
One Demurrage Rule Now Final
The Surface Transportation Board released a final version of one of several proposed rules aimed to reforming railroad demurrage practices.
Last year, the board issued two proposed rulemakings and a proposed policy statement intended to address widespread railroad abuses that had been detailed by shippers in several congressional and STB hearings held earlier in in 2019 (AA, 10-31-19, P. 1).
The first rule finalized by the board, although welcome by the industries effected, is a welcome housekeeping measure designed to clean up legal language in the board’s regulations that was proposed by several shipper segments.
The other proposals offer substantial reforms to the current demurrage and accessorial fee regulations regarding the timing and application of these fees, which shippers say has made them an unfair method used by several Class 1 railroads to boost revenue.
The final rule, which goes into effect on April 3, changes the STB rate regulations governing the class exemptions for certain commodities – such as paper products and steel scrap, and boxcar transportation – to more clearly state that these shipments are subject to STB regulation.
“This modification reflects longstanding court and agency rulings that these exemptions do not apply to the regulation of demurrage,” the board says.
In addition, the final rule partially revokes the class exemption that covers specified agricultural commodities and clarifies that this exemption does not apply to demurrage regulation.
The board says its intention is to make the agricultural commodities exemption more consistent with the miscellaneous commodities and boxcar transportation exemptions.
Chemical Output Falls in February
The American Chemistry Council reported that global chemical production fell by 2.4% in February, an acceleration from the 0.8% decline that took place in January.
The January decline had reversed gains reported for November and December.
The February drop was led by a large decline in China due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, the council said.
During February, chemical production increased in the former Soviet Union, was flat in Europe, and declined elsewhere. Headline global production was off 1.5% percent year-over-year (Y/Y) on a three- month moving average (3MMA) basis and stood at 115% percent of its average 2012 levels.
Global capacity rose in February by 0.3% and was up 3.3% Y/Y. As a result, with the decline in production, capacity utilization in the global chemical industry fell 2.1 points to 79.3%.
ACC said capacity utilization is down from the 83.2% seen in January, and is well below the long- term (1987-2017) average of 86.5%. This is the first time below 80% percent since August 2009, the council pointed out.
Among chemical industry segments, February results were decidedly negative across all segments. Considering year-earlier comparisons, growth was present in only plastic resins.
On March 21, ACC announced the Department of Homeland Security had designated the chemical industry and its workers as Essential Critical Infrastructure – an industry sector critical to public health and safety, economic and national security.
ACC earlier reported that the Chemical Activity Barometer,considered a leading economic indicator, rose 0.4% in February on a three-month moving average. Those numbers however were preliminary and unadjusted, and most of the activity reported occurred before news of the COVID-19 epidemic became widespread (AA, 3-15-20, P. 3).