The U.S. trucking industry and labor representatives are pitted against each other in a battle as House and Senate negotiators work to decide whether to include language that would delay a Department of Transportation (DOT) rulemaking. The policy rider to delay elements of DOT’s “hours of service” rule affecting truckers was included in a Senate version of the annual spending bill for federal transportation programs and was expected to make it into the year-end omnibus now being finalized by House and Senate appropriators. But lawmakers said the provision, sponsored by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), is not a sure bet for inclusion in the spending package.

Bloomberg News reports that Senator John Thune (R-SD), ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, said the fate of the provision was a key issue still being discussed by House and Senate negotiators this week. “That’s one of the issues that we’re watching,” Thune told reporters. “It’s one that hasn’t been resolved.”

Senator Collins’s amendment was approved this spring by a 21-9 margin in the Senate’s FY2015 appropriations bill for Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD).  At the time, Collins argued that the rule should be delayed in order for DOT to examine whether its restrictions on truck companies’ evening operations actually caused greater congestion and more accidents during the daytime.

But labor and safety groups said in a December 2 letter to House and Senate appropriators that the proposed change is far from a “minor tweak” to the rule and should be dropped. The groups criticized the provision in a letter calling for negotiators to also reject other “anti-safety” provisions sought by the trucking industry. “While the proposed change to the “Hours of Service” (HOS) rule has been portrayed as a ‘minor tweak’ to the rule, it is, in fact, a major change which will result in significantly more working and driving hours for truck drivers,” appropriators were told in a letter signed by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and many other groups. “Working and driving hours will increase from 70 hours to 84 hours.”

“Truck driver fatigue is a major safety problem which was recently brought to national public attention after a Walmart truck driver crashed into a limo bus seriously injuring Tracy Morgan and killing James McNair,” the groups said. The trucking industry fired back in a December 4 letter to Rogers, Mikulski, and others that labor and safety groups are “misleading” Congress about the provision’s impact.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA), which represents FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc., among others said the Collins amendment would only temporarily suspend two elements of the DOT rulemaking. “This language does not, as critics suggest, eliminate use of this rest provision,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves in the letter. “Instead, it would suspend unwarranted restrictions on use of the provision while DOT conducts a mandated study of the net safety impacts of them.”

Graves also said the ATA is not pushing for riders to permit twin 33-foot trailers or increase the maximum weight of commercial trucks operating on U.S. highways. But labor and safety groups said they are concerned that special interest truck size and weight exemptions for Idaho, Mississippi, and Wisconsin could still make their way into the omnibus. Such provisions were in the House version of the THUD bill, they said. “If special exemptions are made for these states, it is nearly impossible for neighboring states to withstand trucking industry pressures to follow suit and raise truck weights,” they said.

Rogers told reporters that he and Mikulski have a goal to resolve all issues related to the omnibus by 6:00 p.m. December 5 in order for the legislation to be ready for floor action the week of December 8.