By Ryan McCoy, Alex Simon, and Cary Burke

Seyfarth Synopsis: Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that a crane mechanic who performed some work on a truck chassis came within the purview of the Motor Carrier Act exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act, irrespective of the percentage of time he spent performing such work in comparison to his other duties. 

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit confirmed that a crane mechanic’s work on mobile cranes falls squarely within the scope of the Motor Carrier Act Exemption (MCE) to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

This was not a heavy lift for the three-judge panel deciding Cunningham v. Circle 8 Crane Services. As the Fifth Circuit reminded the plaintiff, the Motor Carrier Act Exemption applies whenever the Secretary of Labor has the power to regulate a particular employee’s qualifications and maximum hours of service, even if that power is unexercised.

For context, an employee falls under the Secretary of Labor’s jurisdiction when he or she (1) is employed by a motor carrier or a private motor carrier subject to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) jurisdiction, and (2) engages in activities that directly affect the safety of operation of motor vehicles in the transportation on the public highways of passengers or property in interstate or foreign commerce.

With limited exceptions, drivers, driver’s helpers, loaders, and mechanics who meet these criteria and engage in interstate commerce are not eligible for overtime under the FLSA.

In this case, the crane mechanic argued that the MCE did not apply to his employment because the “bulk” of his work was done on the crane itself, rather than the truck chassis that drove the crane, which did not directly affect how safely the vehicle could operate on highways. The employer countered, among other things, that ensuring that the crane was in safe working condition would prevent it from becoming hazardous to highway safety.

In short order, the Fifth Circuit took a wrecking ball to the crane mechanic’s argument. Under the Motor Carrier Act, it doesn’t matter how a mechanic spends the “bulk” of their time. Because it was undisputed that the crane mechanic worked on the truck chassis that moved the crane on interstate highways, he qualified as a “mechanic” for purposes of the MCE. Therefore, the Court did not even need to address whether work on immobile crane components would trigger the exemption.

In the end, the Supreme Court has long made clear that the Motor Carrier Act Exemption exists to ensure that employers who operate motor vehicles are not hamstrung by regulations from two agencies. The Fifth Circuit’s opinion here demonstrates that this principle remains safe, secure, and hooked on a reinforced-steel cable.