Saturday, July 07, 2007

Opposition to Mexican trucks on U.S. roads still strong

Worries about safety, smuggling are listed

Critics appear as full-throated as ever in their opposition to a Bush administration plan to open the nation's highways to Mexican trucks, according to a review of public comments collected so far by the federal government.

More than 2,100 people had submitted comments to the Transportation Department as of yesterday, and almost all expressed displeasure with a proposed one-year pilot project that could begin later this year.

Among the concerns: worries that the Mexican carriers' trucks would be unsafe, that they could be used to smuggle drugs into the United States and that they would imperil the income of U.S. truckers.

“I think that if this project goes through it would create severe problems with drug trafficking and terrorism,” wrote Nicholas Louya of Thomasville, N.C. “I am a small businessman with two trucks of my own. This industry is already a struggle. This would crush the little man. . . . I also see problems with the safety of all affected. I don't think the local governments have the means to enforce this properly.”

The Transportation Department extended the deadline for comments until the close of business Monday.

The Bush administration is pushing the program, which it says is the first step to fulfill an obligation under the North American Free Trade Agreement to open the border to commercial truck traffic from both countries.

Proponents say opening the border would lead to greater efficiency in delivering products and would promote economic growth and cooperation between the United States and Mexico.

Opponents, including the Teamsters union and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, contend that the program lacks adequate safeguards.

Critics had asked for the comment period to be held open until the end of August to give the public additional time to review more than 350 pages of program-related documents that were released by the federal government June 22.

Melissa DeLaney, a spokeswoman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, defended the comment period as sufficient.

Opponents sent a letter to President Bush earlier this week asking him to suspend plans to open the border until their concerns are addressed. The letter, written by Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, and Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., bore the signatures of 114 House members.

Plans to open the border to commercial traffic have been blocked by congressional opponents and others since 1995.

The latest delay came in the form of legislation passed by Congress in May that requires the Transportation Department to release additional details on the program and get approval from the agency's inspector general.

Opponents of the program, including the Sierra Club and the Teamsters, last month withdrew a lawsuit they had filed against it in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

Jonathan Weissglass, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit was dropped after the transportation agency agreed to release additional details and seek public comment.

YRC watching Teamsters’ negotiations with UPS

The Teamsters union has begun contract talks with UPS that could affect the direction of future negotiations with YRC Worldwide Inc. and other unionized trucking companies.

Although the current contract with the parcel giant does not expire until the end of July 2008, bargaining has already begun in hopes of obtaining a new agreement early.

One issue that UPS has put on the table is pension benefits for the company’s 238,000 union workers. According to recent trade industry reports, UPS is seeking to exit the plan with a lump-sum payment of nearly $4 billion. The company proposes to then form a joint Teamsters-UPS pension plan for future workers. Full story........