The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday, June 10, 2019 against workers on oil drilling platforms. In the case of Parker Drilling Management v Newton, the workers argued they should be paid for the off-work time they spend on the platform, including sleeping. The high court said that federal law applied and did not require the workers to be paid for non-working time spent at their work location on the Outer Continental Shelf. The workers had argued that state law, in this case from California, required them to be compensated for their off-time.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court and said in his opinion “federal law is the only law” which applies on the Outer Continental Shelf; i.e. “there has never been any overlapping state and federal jurisdiction there.” The question, he said, was whether federal law addressed the question of off-work time spent on the oil rig. He said it did not and therefore the workers would not be paid for their off-time.
The case before the Supreme Court involved Brian Newton, who worked on drilling platforms off California’s coast near Santa Barbara from 2013 to 2015. Like others living and working on the platform, he worked 14-day shifts, spending 12 hours working and 12 hours off work. However, in his twelve hours off, he was on “standby” and could not leave the platform. In 2015, Newton filed a class action lawsuit arguing that his former employer, Parker Drilling, was violating California law by, among other things, failing to pay workers for the time they spent on “standby”, including the time they spent sleeping.
In making their ruling, the justices looked to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). While it holds that federal law applies on the Outer Continental Shelf, it also allows the laws of the adjacent state to serve as federal law to the extent they are “applicable and not inconsistent” with other federal law. In this case, Justice Thomas wrote “federal law applies to a particular issue, state law is inapplicable.”
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