Teamsters’ Hoffa leads protectionist border rally protesting trucking program

Jimmy Hoffa - Protectionist, Isolationist - out of touch with realitySaying he was here to fight for the safety of America’s roads, Teamsters union General President Jim Hoffa led a rally Wednesday morning at the Otay Mesa border crossing to protest a pilot program that allows long-haul trucking across the U.S.-Mexico border.“The big money boys want to have trucks coming through here that are dangerous,” Hoffa said over cheers from dozens of Teamsters and the roar from Mexican trucks leaving the U.S. inspection station on Enrico Fermi Drive.

“Wake up America, fight back,” Hoffa told supporters.

The pilot project, which has been up and running since September, allows up to 100 pre-approved Mexican carriers to send trucks throughout the United States – beyond the border zone – for a year to test the safety of cross-border trucking.

U.S. carriers also can travel in Mexico for the first time as a step toward opening the border to commercial traffic as required in the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

The Bush Administration favors cross-border trucking and says the safety issues raised by opponents are unfounded.

The program has faced fierce opposition from unions and independent truckers, and a pending transportation bill would cut its funding. The conference bill that would kill the pilot program is expected to win passage in the House and Senate.

But it faces a veto threat from President Bush, who objects to the bill’s cost. If the transportation bill were vetoed, Congress could either override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote or send the president another bill.

Teamsters and other opponents say Mexican trucks are older, more polluting and not subject to the same inspection rigors as U.S. carriers. They say Mexican drivers don’t have the same licensing requirements and are not tested for drugs.

“The Mexican government has no database that keeps track of these drivers and no drug testing,” Hoffa said this morning.

U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Melissa Mazzella-DeLaney, who was at the rally, said 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 said. “They have more requirements than U.S. trucks.”

Likewise, she said Mexican drivers are heavily regulated and must undergo regular drug testing.

She pointed to a recent study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration which found that fewer Mexican drivers fail U.S. inspections than their U.S. counterparts.

A group of Mexican carriers – allowed to drive throughout the U.S. under special permits – had 1.21 percent of their drivers removed from service after failing U.S.-administered roadside inspections between 2003-2006, compared to 7.06 percent of U.S. drivers, according to the study.