San Diego Union Tribune

September 1, 2007

Court rejects union's appeal of truck plan

Mexican carriers to gain access throughout U.S.

WASHINGTON – A long-delayed plan to allow Mexican trucks to roam throughout the United States for the first time since 1982 appears to have surmounted its last legal hurdle.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco yesterday rejected an appeal from the Teamsters union to block the controversial initiative.

The Teamsters and several other groups opposed to the border opening sought an emergency injunction to delay the program, which the groups claim does not fully comply with congressional requirements.

In a brief order released shortly before the court closed for the Labor Day weekend, a three-judge panel denied the request.

That means the Bush administration is free to start allowing pre-approved Mexican carriers to send their trucks throughout the United States as part of a one-year experiment to test the safety of Mexican trucking on U.S. highways.

Administration officials said they hope to begin the program as early as Thursday. But first, they must receive certification from the Department of Transportation's inspector general that the program complies with congressional requirements, which they expect to get Wednesday.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees the program, lauded the court decision as “welcome news for U.S. truck drivers anxious to compete south of the border and U.S. consumers eager to realize the savings of more efficient shipments with one of our largest trading partners.”

Opponents said they will continue to contest the program in the appellate court, where the case is scheduled to be heard over the next several months.

“We believe this program clearly breaks the law,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said in a statement. “We will continue to fight for safety and national security in the courts and in Congress.”

Under the program, up to 100 Mexican carriers will be authorized to send trucks throughout the United States. An equal number of U.S. trucks will be able to cross into Mexico for the first time.

Critics, including trucking and safety organizations and dozens of lawmakers, have alleged that U.S. transportation officials have failed to comply with congressional requirements aimed at guaranteeing that Mexican trucks will be safe on U.S. highways.

Others oppose the program because they fear that low-paid Mexican truck drivers will threaten American jobs, or that the trucks will be used to smuggle drugs or terrorists across the border.

U.S. transportation officials say Mexican drivers will pose no more of a risk than American truckers, since the Mexican carriers have to pass comprehensive safety audits and their drivers must comply with all U.S. laws and regulations.

The pilot program is viewed as a step toward fulfilling a North American Free Trade Agreement obligation to open all roads in the United States, Mexico and Canada to carriers from all three countries.

Canadian trucking companies have full access to U.S. roads, but Mexican trucks can travel only about 20 miles inside the country at certain border crossings such as ones in San Diego and El Paso, Texas.