US president Barack Obama is seeking new powers to require trucking companies to pay their drivers for time spent loading and unloading freight.
The Obama administration’s proposed multi-billion dollar transport plan includes a clause that will, if passed, allow the federal transportation secretary to order trucking operators to compensate drivers for non-driving work at a rate at least equal to the federal minimum wage.
The current US federal minimum hourly wage is $7.25.
The US Department of Transportation says truck drivers are often not paid for time spent waiting for shipments to be loaded or unloaded.
"As a result, they often face pressure to drive beyond hours-of-service limitations as a matter of economic necessity, risking driver fatigue and jeopardizing [sic] highway safety in the process," a statement from the department says.
It says the proposal to require paid waiting time will ease the economic stress on long-distance truck drivers by ensuring they are paid for the hours they work.
The Obama administration’s transport plan is known as the Grow America Act and has been sent to US Congress for approval.
The Bill aims to invest US$478 billion over six years mainly in transport infrastructure projects.
Measures include priority funding for highways and bridges in dire need of repair, and a new competitive grants scheme to encourage state and local governments and private companies to bid for money for projects to improve safety, congestion and environmental issues related to the transport industry.
"All over the country I hear the same account: the need to repair and expand our surface transportation system has never been greater, and yet federal transportation funding has never been in such short supply," US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx says.
"Our proposal provides a level of funding and also funding certainty that our partners need and deserve. This is an opportunity to break away from 10 years of flat funding, not to mention these past six years in which Congress has funded transportation by passing 32 short-term measures."
Foxx says the Bill will increase investment across all transport modes.
A recent study by the department found the country’s transport system is struggling under the weight of declining road and bridge quality, an infrastructure backlog and growing freight traffic.
"As it stands, total investment in our roads, bridges and transit systems is falling well below the level that is needed to keep them in good condition," Foxx says.