HOUSTON - President Bush has “sucker punched” American workers and threatened national security by opening the nation’s southern border to Mexican long-haul truckers, Teamsters President James Hoffa said Saturday.
Speaking to the union’s annual women’s conference, Hoffa said the Bush administration’s new pilot program, which took effect Sept. 6, shows a lack of concern for homeland security. The program is restricted to 100 Mexican carriers that are allowed to cross a total of 1,000 vehicles.
“Oh, George Bush is so worried about national security,” said Hoffa, adding that his biggest problem with the program is not knowing enough about the truckers and what they’re hauling.
“And they’re going to be coming across that border driving all over Canada and the United States. That’s his vision of America, that’s not our vision,” Hoffa told about 1,000 women and guests in a downtown hotel ballroom.
The U.S. Transportation Department granted permission to Transportes Olympic, based in a suburb of Monterrey, Mexico, to haul cargo anywhere in the United States as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In turn, Mexico granted authority to Stagecoach Cartage & Distribution Inc. of El Paso to travel anywhere in Mexico.
Government lawyers said the program is a necessary part of the North American Free Trade Agreement and that trucks enrolled in the program would meet U.S. regulations.
Canadian trucking companies already have full access to U.S. roads, but Mexican trucks can travel only about 25 miles inside the country, or 75 miles in Arizona.
The Teamsters, Sierra Club and watchdog group Public Citizen sued to stop the program, arguing there won’t be enough oversight of drivers entering the U.S. from Mexico. But a federal appeals court ruled the Bush administration could move ahead.
Hoffa said he would go to Congress next week to try to get the program halted.
Another of his concerns: “Does anybody know how all the drugs are coming into America?” he asked the gathering. “They’re going to be coming in trucks pretty soon. It’s only a matter of time.”
The U.S. government says it has imposed rigorous safety protocols in the program, including drug and alcohol testing for drivers done by U.S. companies. Additionally, law enforcement officials have stepped up nationwide enforcement of a law that’s been on the books since the 1970s requiring interstate truck and bus drivers to have a basic understanding of written and spoken English.
The program’s go-ahead came Thursday night after the transportation department’s inspector general made a report to Congress on safety and other requirements. The report said the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates truck safety, had made progress addressing Congress’ requirements.
But it also said the administration had no coordinated plans for checking trucks and drivers participating in the test program, and that the motor carrier safety group needed to do more to help enforce the English requirement for drivers.
John Hill, who runs the motor carrier administration, said Friday evening neither Transportes Olympic nor Stagecoach Cartage & Distribution had yet to cross the border as part of the program.
Hill said the Mexican carrier indicated it would begin crossing into the U.S. during the weekend; the American outfit was expected to start sometime next week.
Even before the first truck crosses, detractors like Hoffa have spoken out.
Dozens of truckers protested at border crossings in Texas and California on Thursday, denouncing the program as dangerous and unfair. In Laredo, Texas, protesters carried signs reading “NAFTA Kills” and “Unsafe Mexican Trucks.”