Court rejects Teamsters bid to halt cross-border plan

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The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Friday, Aug. 31, rejected an appeal to block a long-delayed plan to allow Mexican trucks full access throughout the United States. The Teamsters and several other groups — Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Law Foundation and Local 70 of the Auto and Truck Drivers union — had sought an emergency injunction to delay the program, which the groups argue does not fully comply with congressional mandates.

The decision by the three-judge panel means the Bush administration can allow pre-approved Mexican carriers access to U.S. highways as part of a one-year experiment. The plan could begin as early as Thursday, Sept. 6, but the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration must receive certification from the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General that the program complies with congressional requirements. The IG’s report is expected Wednesday, Sept. 5, FMCSA said.

Under the program, up to 100 Mexican carriers will be authorized to send trucks throughout the United States, and an equal number of U.S. trucks will be able to enter Mexico. The program is viewed as a step toward fulfilling obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement to open highways in the United States, Canada and Mexico to trucks from all three countries. Today, Mexican trucks can travel only about 20 miles inside the country at certain border crossings — including San Diego and El Paso, Texas — to unload their freight.

“The court’s prompt decision denying an emergency stay is welcome news for U.S. truck drivers anxious to compete south of the border and U.S. consumers eager to realize the savings of more efficient shipments with one of our largest trading partners,” FMCSA said late Friday. “However, we still must wait for the Inspector General’s new assessment, respond to that report and have Mexico begin giving U.S. trucking companies access before we can begin this program.”

Opponents of the plan — including trucking and safety organizations, as well as dozens of lawmakers — have alleged that U.S. transportation officials have failed to comply with congressional requirements to verify that Mexican carriers approved for the program have passed comprehensive safety audits and that their drivers are in compliance with all U.S. laws and regulations. Others argue that low-paid Mexican drivers will threaten American jobs.

Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said his organization will continue to contest the program in the appellate court. “This is the wrong decision for American working men and women,” Hoffa said late Friday. “We will now proceed to litigate this case on the merits. We believe this program clearly breaks the law. We will continue to fight for safety and national security in the courts and in Congress.”

The Arizona Republic reported Monday, Sept. 3, that to date, 31 Mexican companies — with a maximum of 151 trucks — are poised for U.S. permits, and two-thirds of the carriers are in Baja California. In the United States, 14 companies are awaiting permits from the Mexican government, according to the Republic.