Cross-border protests go cross-country

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The Teamsters held protests Thursday, Sept. 6, at border crossings to demonstrate their opposition to the pilot cross-border program with Mexico that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ultimately would authorize hours later.

Meanwhile, in Wasington D.C., key legislators in the House joined with the Teamsters, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Truck Safety Coalition on Thursday to call on the Bush administration to reconsider the program and for the Senate to accept a House-passed measure that would block funding for the initiative in the coming fiscal year.

Following the program’s authorization late Thursday night, OOIDA filed a petition today, Sept. 7, asking for a review, and a stay on the program pending that review, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. OOIDA argues FMCSA did not follow congressional directives and legal requirements.

“We believe we have a strong case against what is being called a pilot program, but is actually a stealthily implemented, pre-ordained plan to fully open our highways to Mexican trucks,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president. “This is all done in the name of global economics and cheap labor.”

Late Thursday night, FMCSA cleared Transportes Olympic, which is based in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, as the first Mexican carrier in the demonstration program. Meanwhile, El Paso, Texas-based Sagecoach Cartage and Distribution won Mexican goverment approval to operate south of the border.

Robert Tamez, who organized a rally at Laredo, Texas, said about 50 Teamsters were at the Laredo crossing to protest FMCSA’s program that will allow 100 Mexican carriers to do business in the United States. The Teamsters also protested at the San Diego crossing, but the leader for that rally was not immediately available for comment.

Teamsters, OOIDA and other critics of the program charge that it would allow trucks and drivers that do not meet American standards on the nation’s roads. Their complaints include that not enough inspectors exist to inspect every Mexican truck, lack of Mexican drug testing facilities and that Mexican trucks don’t meet U.S. safety standards.

Also, they fear for American jobs, as Mexican truckers work far cheaper than their American counterparts, Tamez said.

A union representative also spoke at a Capitol Hill news conference blasting the program, held by U.S. Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House transportation committee. It included other congressional members and OOIDA representation.

Oberstar noted the House had fought the program three times. The Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved H.R. 1773, the Safe American Roads Act of 2007, 66-0 on May 2; the House passed it, 411-3. This legislation allows a three-year pilot program, but only under specific conditions and once all prerequisites are met to ensure safety. It also ensures that carriers participating in the pilot strictly adhere to U.S. safety laws and regulations. To monitor and evaluate the pilot program, the bill authorizes an independent panel and requires the DOT Inspector General and DOT to report to Congress on the pilot program and whether it has an adverse effect on safety.

The bill includes mechanisms to shut the program down if there is any detrimental effect on safety. The bill also requires Congress to pass additional legislation for the border to open fully beyond the limited pilot program.

In May, Congress passed and President Bush signed supplemental funding legislation that imposed a number of conditions and prerequisites on the proposed pilot program, including some – but not all – of the measures included in H.R. 1773.

On July 24, the House passed the fiscal 2008 funding bill (H.R. 3074) for the Department of Transportation and other agencies that included a provision to bar DOT from using any funds to implement its proposed pilot program.

According to DOT, 32 Mexico-domiciled carriers have passed the Pre-Authorization Safety Audit, and these carriers intend to conduct operations in the United States with 174 trucks. DOT estimates that if 100 carriers participate in the one-year pilot program, they will operate more than 500 trucks.