Teamsters union General President Jim Hoffa led a rally Wednesday, Dec. 5, at the Otay Mesa border crossing to protest the Bush administration’s pilot program that allows long-haul trucking across the U.S.-Mexico border, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
“The big money boys want to have trucks coming through here that are dangerous,” Hoffa said over cheers from dozens of Teamsters. “Wake up America, fight back. The Mexican government has no database that keeps track of these drivers and no drug testing.”
U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Melissa Mazzella-DeLaney, who was at the rally, told the Union-Tribune that union protectionism is the real force behind opposition and that Hoffa does not have the facts to back up his claims of unsafe trucks and drivers.
“To say that these trucks are not inspected is absolutely false,” Mazzella-DeLaney told the newspaper. “They have more requirements than U.S. trucks.” Likewise, she said Mexican drivers are heavily regulated and must undergo regular drug testing.
A federal transportation bill that includes a ban on funding for the program cleared the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 14. A vote by the U.S. Senate, which is expected to pass the same bill, is pending.
While approved 270-147 by the House, H.R. 3074’s future is in doubt. President Bush has threatened to veto the $105.6 billion package, and the House vote fell eight short of the number needed for an override. Bush says the bill spends about $5.5 billion more than a version submitted by the White House.
The fiscal 2008 transportation spending bill was approved by a House-Senate conference committee on Nov. 8. The committee’s version retained language that would block funding for the Department of Transportation’s pilot program allowing long-haul trucking across the U.S.-Mexico border.
The cross-border program, which has been in place since Sept. 6, allows a limited number of Mexican trucking companies to operate beyond the 25-mile commercial zone in the United States. Under a reciprocity agreement with Mexico, the one-year pilot program also allows a limited number of U.S. carriers to operate into Mexico.
Critics, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Teamsters, argue that the program lacks enough safeguards to ensure that Mexican trucks meet the same safety standards as American trucks.
“I totally reject the argument that the Teamsters are against Mexican truck drivers,” Hoffa said. “We are against the companies that exploit them and the governments that don’t live up to their responsibilities to make sure the highways are safe.”
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration last month began adding equipment to trucks in the program that allows them to be monitored as they pick up and deliver their loads. FMCSA said the decision to require the installation of satellite tracking technology was made after members of Congress expressed a desire to know whether participants are complying with federal safety and trade laws. FMCSA first announced its plans to monitor participants in late September.
The satellite-based technology, developed by San Diego-based Qualcomm, is being used to track trucks by vehicle number and company only – no driver information is being collected. According to FMCSA, the technology will ensure that trucks operating as part of the program are complying with the agency’s safety standards and U.S. trade laws.
FMCSA announced this week that 10 Mexican carriers now have been granted authority to operate a total of 55 trucks in the United States under the program, and four U.S. carriers have been allowed to operate a total of 41 trucks in Mexico. FMCSA said it has notified an additional 37 Mexican carriers that they have successfully passed a pre-authorization safety audit.
The Teamsters have continued the court battle to stop the program since unsuccessfully seeking an emergency injunction in September. Joined by the safety group Public Citizen, the union filed arguments on Monday, Dec. 3, with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The brief responded to the Bush administration’s arguments. The Teamsters filed their first brief on Oct. 19.
“We filed hundreds of pages of legal arguments in the past few months that show the Bush administration broke the law in dozens of ways with this so-called ‘pilot project,’ ” Hoffa said.