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Mexican Trucks Will Soon Be Operating Freely in the U.S., Enraging Drivers’ Union

US Mexico Border

The U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to announce that it will be lifting restrictions on Mexican trucking firms who want to operate throughout the United States.  Despite the passage of NAFTA in 1994, which theoretically should have allowed Mexican trucking companies to engage long haul operations in the U.S., restrictions have remained.  In 2011, a pilot program (FMSCA) began to phase out the existing restrictions.  

The announcement came on Monday from Mexico’s Communications and Transport Ministry.  In a statement, the Mexican ministry said a pilot program had achieved its objectives and that the U.S. government would soon be ready to consider requests from Mexican trucking companies to be granted access to all of the United States.

A recently released audit from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) did not make any recommendations, but did show that FMCSA had “established sufficient monitoring and enforcement activities” to meet a lengthy list of requirements mandated by Congress.  However, questions can be raised about the effectiveness of the pilot program given that the audit showed only 15 carriers participated in it. The FMCSA originally estimated it would take 46 carriers to achieve its inspection target.  The OIG report also shows that 90 percent of the border crossings and 80 percent of the inspections were attributed to only two carriers.  The most active carrier in the pilot program rarely traveled beyond the border zone.

The chief opponent of lifting the restrictions has been the Teamsters union. The shoddy OIG is further evidence that caution is paramount, the union says. Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa labeled the program a “failure”:

“I am outraged. This policy change by the DOT flies in the face of common sense and ignores the statutory and regulatory requirements of a pilot program. Allowing untested, Mexican trucks to travel our highways is a mistake of the highest order and it’s the driving public that will be put at risk by the DOT’s rash decision.”

The Teamsters fear that lifting the restrictions will cause the industry to “hemorrhage both money and jobs,” and that both security and the economy will be compromised.  This has been the union’s position since at least 2011:

A main concern is that Mexican carriers will pose a safety threat on the highways with their aging equipment and lack of inspection. Between 2007 and 2011, Texas inspectors found more than 1.2 million safety violations on trucks going between the Mexico/Texas borders.

According to laws set by the Transportation Department’s Appropriations Act of 2001, 50 percent of “pre-authority safety audits” (PASA’s) are to be conducted on the Mexican side of the border by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). James Hoffa, Teamsters President, penned article in Sign On San Diego on the subject:

According to the inspector general’s report, “FMCSA officials informed us in June 2011 that they intend to comply with the law for conducting PASAs and compliance reviews, but have not developed plans and safeguards for conducting PASAs in Mexico. They had previously informed us in April and May 2011 that they did not plan to conduct reviews in Mexico due to safety concerns. FMCSA’s policy for conducting PASAs does not address where PASAs will be conducted.”

In his op-ed published by Sign On San Diego, Hoffa also suggested that the pilot program would eventually become a de facto guest worker program which would have a negative effect on the American trucking jobs market:

”There are other aspects of the plan to open the border that DOT won’t acknowledge, at least publicly. It is, first and foremost, a guest worker-on-wheels program that will rob hardworking American trucking and warehouse workers of their jobs. At a time when the U.S. unemployment rate is over 9 percent, we cannot afford to lose any more jobs. For those truckers and warehouse workers lucky enough to keep their jobs, wages will fall because Mexican drivers will be willing to work for so much less.

To be sure, unemployment has dropped since 2011. But protecting middle class jobs is no less important today than it was four years ago. Income inequality continues to rise, plaguing the nation.  This pilot program, successful or not, put an unfair burden on the Federal Gas Tax which in turn weighed heavier on America’s infrastructure system.  Despite these shortcomings, the business community fully supported it.  Now, unsurprisingly, just months after their allied politicians gained a new majority in Washington, the free marketeers are labeling the program a success and Mexican truckers have their sights on freely operating in the U.S.

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