The Washington State Bill would force retailers to allow truck drivers to use restrooms

A bill in the Washington State legislature seeks to address a problem that truck drivers face daily: nowhere to use the restroom.

Labor law in Washington state requires most employers to provide their workers with toilet facilities. However, due to the unique itinerant nature of commercial truck driving, the law leaves drivers without access to a toilet.

“It seems to me that logic would determine that this would already be handled or taken care of, but obviously not,” State Representative Mike Sells, D-Everett, told the Washington Transportation Committee last week.

Sells was there to promote the legislation he sponsors, which aims to resolve the situation. House Bill 1706 would require retailers to allow truck and courier drivers to use their restrooms as long as it would not pose safety or health risks. The state’s 75 port districts would also be required to make toilets available to truck drivers delivering goods in the terminal area.

Sells told the committee that the already long-standing problem has been exacerbated by recent supply chain disruptions that have tied up port operations. Some truck drivers, including a pregnant woman, have told him they have had to wait up to eight hours to use the toilet, he said.

Semi-truck drivers arrive to pick up and deliver products at Long Beach Harbor, October 27, 2014 in Long Beach, California. A bill in the Washington State legislature aims to help with a problem that truckers are experiencing everywhere: lack of bathrooms.
Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images

The American Trucking Association estimates that the United States is missing 80,000 drivers, which is a historic high. Sheri Call, executive vice president of the Washington Trucking Associations, told the committee that the bill is a “call” from an industry in the midst of a labor market crisis, which she said could worsen.

Representatives from the state’s retail, hospitality and business lobbies told the committee they were sympathetic to the truck drivers’ situation and were willing to work with Sells on the bill. But they questioned the need for the bill, saying their member companies routinely allowed truck and courier drivers to use their bathroom facilities.

“It’s just a basic ordinary courtesy, quite frankly,” said Bruce Beckett, lobbyist for the Washington Retail Association, which represents 4,500 stores.

Beckett said the association previously asked its members for feedback after hearing about the bill. “And from the information we’ve heard back, all of our members – small, large and in between – allow drivers to use their facilities,” he said.

The association is not aware of any complaints, but companies will resolve any issues that arose, he said.

But Ryan Johnson, a truck driver at Teamsters Local 38, told lawmakers he has had a different experience during his 20 years driving a truck.

“This is a problem at all levels,” he said. “If companies do not want to be bothered when you ask to use the bathroom, they just say ‘no.’

Johnson highlighted the ports of Tacoma and Seattle for not having enough restrooms or porta pots to accommodate the thousands of drivers they see daily who end up sitting for hours.

Sean Eagan, lobbyist for the ports of Tacoma and Seattle, said his clients supported the bill, calling it a matter of dignity.

Scott Hazlegrove, a lobbyist for the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, told the committee that his association, which represents marine terminal operators, would be familiar with the bill with amendments specifying that restrooms will be accessible where truck drivers are located and recognizing safety requirements.

He said his association believed the problem had been resolved in the past.

“But the bill shows there is still more work to be done,” he added.

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