Saturday, September 08, 2007

Mexican truck program 'sucker-punches' U.S.

Telling a women's conference in Houston that the effort is dangerous, leader vows Teamsters will fight funding

Calling a new pilot program opening the border to Mexican trucks dangerous, Teamsters President Jim Hoffa said today in Houston the union will lobby to cut its funding.

Hoffa said money for the new program came from somewhere and the union will press Congress to stop it.

"We can do that," he said.

In prepared remarks, the union president said the Bush administration has "sucker-punched" American workers by opening highways to Mexican trucks.

Under the year-long pilot program, up to 100 Mexican carriers can get permission to go beyond a 25-mile buffer zone in the U.S. There are also provisions for U.S. carriers to go into Mexico.

The program comes under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Hoffa told the annual Teamsters Women's Conference at the Hilton Americas hotel that drugs could come in the U.S. across the border in the trucks. He said that although the Bush administration says it is concerned about national security, the program will threaten safety.

The union, along with groups including the Sierra Club and Public Citizen, argues it endangers highways because safety issues aren't resolved. A new report by the Department of Transportation's inspector general strengthens that argument, Hoffa said.

That report concluded the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hasn't developed and implemented complete, coordinated plans for checking trucks and drivers in the demonstration project as they cross the border.

"It's a disaster waiting to happen," the Teamsters president said.

But the safety administration says the inspector general affirmed its plans to go beyond statutory requirements and to check every truck crossing the border.

John H. Hill, administrator of the Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said today every audit the inspector general has done since 2002 found the department made substantial compliance in meeting requirements laid out by Congress.

"Any time a government program is put in place, there are always ways to improve it," he said.

Hill added that the pilot program's safety protocols are more rigorous for Mexican carriers than they are for U.S. carriers. And he questioned why Hoffa is concerned that U.S. trucking companies can't compete with Mexican trucking companies.

"We believe they can," Hill said. "I think this is about issues unrelated to the safety agenda."

The administrator also said some of the comments being made are unduly alarming to the public. He stressed last week that the program meets all public safety requirements.

Thursday night, transportation officials said one Mexican carrier and two U.S. carriers had been certified under the program. Friday evening, the Mexican carrier sent a truck loaded with steel bound for Wilson Hills, N.C.

A lawsuit by the Teamsters and other groups aimed at blocking the program is pending in court.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Truckers protest trial plan to permit Mexican trucks in US

Dozens of truckers waved signs and American flags at a border crossing Thursday to protest a program that will allow up to 100 Mexican trucking companies to freely haul their cargo anywhere in the United States.

The U.S. Transportation Department was expected to begin issuing operating permits in the pilot program as early as Thursday.

The Teamsters union, Sierra Club and nonprofit group Public Citizen sued to try to stop the program, arguing that there won't be enough oversight of the drivers coming into the U.S. from Mexico and public safety would be endangered.

A federal appeals court ruled Friday, though, that the Bush administration could move ahead.

Government lawyers said the program was a necessary part of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the trucks enrolled in the program would meet U.S. regulations.

NAFTA requires that all roads in the United States, Mexico and Canada be opened to carriers from all three countries. Canadian trucking companies already have full access to U.S. roads, but Mexican trucks can travel only about 20 miles inside the country at certain border crossings.

The current pilot program is designed to study whether opening the U.S.-Mexico border to all trucks could be done safely.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Teamsters continue to battle Mexican trucks

The plan to let Mexican trucks operate throughout the United States has prompted a war of words and legal papers between the Bush administration and Jim Hoffa, the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Hoffa and his allies at the Sierra Club and Public Citizen have sued in federal court to stop the government from issuing permits to Mexican freight haulers. Their lawyers argued in court that Mexican trucks pose a danger on the roads and threaten increased human and drug smuggling.

"Dangerous trucks should not be driving all the way from Mexico to Maine and Minnesota," said Hoffa in a prepared statement. "What is it about safety and national security that George Bush doesn't understand?"

The government argued that stopping the trucks would unsettle a key trading partner in Mexico and delay U.S.trucks from operating south of the border. Officials insist that a lengthy pre-inspection of Mexican firms has resulted in strict safety standards and compliance with congressional mandates.

"We chose to do this incrementally and cautiously," said John Hill, who runs the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates truck safety and is responsible for the cross-border trucking plan. "These carriers are going to be safe."

He has 254 inspectors along the border. Only 16 of the 188 firms inspected have failed. Just over 100 withdrew, signaling the inspections are rigorous, Hill said.The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Friday denied an emergency injunction to halt the program. The union will continue its lawsuit.

Nothing can happen until the inspector general of the Department of Transportation blesses the one-year experiment and until the Mexican government issues permits to U.S. trucking companies.

That all could happen as early as Thursday.

The heated rhetoric has melted into obscurity the fact that very few firms on either side of the border are interested. To date, 31 Mexican firms - with a maximum of 151 trucks - are poised for U.S. permits, and two-thirds of the firms are in Baja California. Two Mexican border states have no firms cleared to operate in the U.S. interior, including Sonora, across the border from Arizona.

In the United States, only 14 firms are awaiting permits from the Mexican government, Hill said.

Teamsters accuse the government of cherry-picking Mexican firms to skew the results of the imminent experiment.

"You can't take the 151 safest trucks in Mexico and let them drive all over the United States for a year and then say your entire program is safe," Teamsters spokeswoman Leslie Miller said.

Hill says follow-up reviews by the inspector general, plus one independent technical panel that includes former Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe, will assure the results' validity.

Opening the border to trucks was a key part of the North American Free Trade Agreement inked in 1994. The trucks were supposed to be delivering international cargo seven years ago. Under the trade pact, certified Mexican trucks can carry loads anywhere in the United States but can pick up loads only if they are bound for Mexico. The converse applies to U.S. trucks.

That was the arrangement before 1982. Since then, Mexican trucks have operated within a 25-mile commercial zone along the border. There, they transfer loads to U.S. trucks. Last year, 4.5 million trucks crossed north over the border, mostly through Texas.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Teamster Negotiators Return to Indianapolis

Progress Continues As Stewards Take Active Role

With momentum on their side, Teamster negotiators returned to the table with UPS Freight during the week of August 27 in Indianapolis, and rank-and-file members played a key role in the talks. The co-chairman of the union’s negotiating committee expects a tentative agreement very soon.

“I fully expect that we will have an agreement for the Indianapolis workers to vote on by the end of September,” said Ken Hall, Director of the Teamsters Parcel and Small Package Division who is Co-Chairman of the union’s UPS Freight negotiating committee.

Three stewards—a city driver, a road driver and a hostler—all participated in the talks.

“It’s exciting and I’m proud to be participating in these negotiations,” said David Osborn, a 21-year employee of UPS Freight and its predecessor, Overnite Transportation, who is a city driver. “We’re making history here.”

“The union’s leadership is including us and that makes us feel good,” said UPS Freight road driver Jesse Nicholson, a 19-year employee. “They care about what we have to say at the table—our opinions count. We’re making headway and things are going good.”

Neal Hylton, a hostler and 21-year employee, agreed.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” he said. “I’m looking at the big picture. I’m looking beyond myself. I’m looking to negotiate protections that could affect UPS Freight workers in other cities if they choose to become Teamsters.”

The rank-and-file members’ help was praised.

“Having our members take an active role in the negotiations is very beneficial to our entire committee,” Hall said.

“Our rank-and-file members are the people who are on the front lines every day, who know the issues better than anyone else,” said Greg Alden, an International Union Representative with the Teamsters National Freight Division, who attended talks this week. “We can’t do our jobs without them.”

The committee continues to make solid progress in its hard push to reach a tentative agreement as soon as possible. Progress continues to be made on the non-economic issues, and work has begun on economic issues.

“No group of UPS Freight workers are as anxious as the Teamster members here in Indianapolis,” said Brian Buhle, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 135 in Indianapolis. “But we are moving ahead well and we will negotiate a very strong contract that will benefit the 125 members in Indianapolis. We also hope that it serves as a model contract for the thousands of other UPS Freight workers nationwide. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

Dates are currently being set for final bargaining sessions in the coming weeks.