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Teamsters to try to block Mexican trucks

AP | August 30, 2007
JESSE J. HOLLAND

The Teamsters Union said Wednesday it will ask a federal appeals court to block the Bush administration's plan to allow Mexican trucks to carry cargo anywhere in the United States.

The union said it has been told by officials in the Transportation Department's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that the first Mexican trucks will be coming across the border on Saturday.

Teamsters leaders said they planned to seek an emergency injunction Wednesday from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

"What a slap in the face to American workers, opening the highways to dangerous trucks on Labor Day weekend, one of the busiest driving weekends of the year," said Teamsters President Jim Hoffa.

Joining the Teamsters in seeking the emergency stay were the Sierra Club and Public Citizen. "Before providing unconditional access throughout the country to tens of thousands of big rigs we know little to nothing about, we must insure they meet safety and environmental standards," Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope said.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in a statement, said: "we believe this lawsuit is without merit and that our program will benefit consumers by reducing the costly practice of requiring all cross-border shipments to be hauled by three separate trucks operated by three different drivers and provide U.S. trucking companies the opportunity to expand their business into our nation's third largest trading partner."

The Bush administration said last week it would start the cross-border program once the Transportation Department's inspector general certifies safety and inspection plans.

Leslie Miller, a Teamsters spokeswoman, said attorneys for the federal truck safety agency advised the union's lawyers that they expect to get that certification on Friday. She said the Teamsters also were told by the agency attorneys that limited authority for trucks to begin crossing the border will be approved Saturday.

The Teamsters got a powerful labor ally in its protest.

AFL-CIO president John Sweeney said in a news conference "the real issue there is the situation of safety and how this involves the delivery of food or product of Mexico to United States and vice versa.

"It's an ongoing dispute and we don't think the Mexican government is enforcing their laws in that situation," said Sweeney in support of the Teamsters, who left the AFL-CIO to join a rival labor federation in 2005. "I think the Teamsters are taking the lead in this situation and rightly so deserve support."

Supporters of the plan say letting more Mexican trucks on U.S. highways will save American consumers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Labor and driver-owner groups have been fighting the measure part of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement since it was first proposed, saying the program will erode highway safety and eliminate U.S. jobs.

A one-year demonstration project would allow 100 Mexican motor carriers full access to U.S. roads. It can begin as soon as the inspector general certifies that safety and inspection plans and facilities are sufficient to ensure the Mexican trucks are as safe as U.S. trucks.

Since 1982, Mexican trucks have had to stop within a buffer border zone and transfer their loads to U.S. trucks.

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