Teamsters launch campaign to fire DOT secretary Peters

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The Teamsters is launching a nationwide grassroots campaign today, Feb. 7, to fire Transportation Secretary Mary Peters for opening the border to trucks from Mexico, the union announced Wednesday, Feb. 6. “It’s a disgrace that Mary Peters is still in office,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters general president.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s cross-border pilot 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.

The program seemingly saw its final demise – at least for the current fiscal year – on Dec. 26, 2007, when President Bush signed a so-called omnibus appropriations bill (H.R. 2764) that wrapped together funding for the entire federal government except for the Department of Defense, which already was funded under separate legislation.

The compromise funding bill that Congress sent to Bush on Dec. 19 – which passed the House on Dec. 17 and the Senate on Dec. 18 – included a prohibition denying funds “to establish a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program to allow Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones along the international border between the United States and Mexico.”

However, FMCSA said the current cross-border pilot project will continue despite the funding ban, saying the language in the appropriations bill prohibiting funds “to establish” a program doesn’t apply to the program already in place. “In accordance with the 2008 omnibus appropriations act, the U.S. Department of Transportation will not establish any new demonstration programs with Mexico,” FMCSA said. “The current cross-border trucking demonstration project – established in September – will continue to operate.”

“She [Peters] has broken the law and defied the will of the American people by exposing them to dangerous trucks from Mexico,” Hoffa said.

The Teamsters’ “Fire Mary Peters – Lawbreaker” campaign includes a website, www.firemarypeters.com, with blog, downloadable “Fire Mary Peters” windshield signs, recommended actions and an e-mail component urging citizens to ask their elected representatives to find Peters in contempt of Congress.

The Teamsters also will return to court on Tuesday, Feb. 12, to argue Peters broke federal laws by continuing the cross-border project. The case will be heard in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The Teamsters say they are supported by Conatram, the federation of Mexican truck drivers.

FMCSA announced Monday, Feb. 4, that so far it has granted authority to 12 Mexican carriers to operate a total of 42 trucks in the United States under the program, and that five U.S. carriers have been allowed to operate a total of 45 trucks in Mexico. FMCSA had notified an additional 34 Mexican carriers that they had successfully passed a pre-authorization safety audit.

Lawmakers scolded Peters today, Feb. 7, during a House appropriations transportation subcommittee hearing on Bush’s proposed budget. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, accused Peters of being in violation of the law for continuing the program. “It’s a mystery to me why, with all the other transportation needs we have in this country, you’re spending money on a program that we specifically asked you not to do,” Kaptur said. Peters reiterated the administration’s view that the law enacted in December was too narrowly worded to end the program.

Peters stressed that the program ensures that Mexican carriers comply with U.S. safety standards. “There have been no safety incidents involving these vehicles to date,” she said. None of the 42 Mexican trucks enrolled in the program has been involved in an accident, officials said. They said the Mexican trucks have compiled an average 10 percent out-of-service rate since the program began, less than half the 23 percent out-of-service rate for U.S. trucks.

The Teamsters slammed DOT for allowing a Mexican carrier, Trinity Industries of Mexico, to join the program after accumulating an average of 112 safety violations per truck in the previous year. DOT spokesman Brian G. Turmail told the Union-Tribune the carrier was approved because the “vast majority of (violations) were relatively minor.”

Trinity qualified for the program in November but withdrew Feb. 1 and never sent any trucks into the United States beyond the commercial border region. Leonel Olivares, terminal manager at Trinity Industries in Eagle Pass, Texas, told the Union-Tribune its Mexican affiliate “never had intentions of the drivers actually driving into the States. They just wanted to look at the program.”