By Jami Jones, senior editor
Spend any amount of time at a truck inspection facility on the U.S.-Mexico border and the reality of the alarming differences between trucking in Mexico and in the U.S. becomes crystal clear.
That was the point made at a press conference hosted by OOIDA in mid-October at California’s Otay Mesa truck inspection facility. It was a point made before a single word was spoken from the podium.
Along with Todd Spencer, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s executive vice president, OOIDA Member Jose Escott spoke of concerns about opening the border to Mexico-based motor carriers. They were joined by U.S. Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-CA, and Bob Filner, D-CA, along with James P. Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
A hundred yards away, trucks in various state of disrepair – some spewing black smoke – rumbled over the scales with very few selected for in-depth inspections. Against that backdrop, the group delivered a compelling message: Long-haul cross-border trucking is a danger to the economy, to the environment and to highway safety.
The bipartisan stance took place just as the Obama administration officially began the program by awarding permanent operating authority to one trucking company in Mexico while moving forward with efforts to allow others full access to U.S. highways.
Truckers and lawmakers alike want Congress to put a stop to the program.
“This is the wrong plan at the wrong time for an abundance of reasons,” said Spencer. “It’s irresponsible and reckless. The administration should have considered attacking Mexico’s tariffs, not just surrendering to them.”
Spencer said that every year U.S. truckers are burdened with new safety, security and environmental regulations.
“Those regulations come with considerable compliance costs. Mexico-domiciled trucking companies do not contend with a similar regulatory regime nor with the corresponding compliance costs,” he said.
Escott is a small-business trucker from Yucaipa, CA, who emigrated from Mexico years ago and now has U.S. authority to operate his own trucking business. He told those in attendance that as a U.S. trucker, there are many different offenses that can “cause you to lose your commercial driver’s license.”
Escott went on to say those offenses do not exist in any meaningful way for drivers from Mexico. Escott said for Mexican drivers, “their reality is the ‘[La]morbita’ – the bribe paid at roadside for traffic infractions. Violating the rules in Mexico is just something you ‘negotiate’ your way out of, effectively allowing the masking of a driving record that would otherwise disqualify a driver from operating in the U.S.”
Escott also said that in Mexico, “truck drivers think our HOS rules are a joke.” He said while U.S. DOT attempts to assure the American public that they will be strictly monitoring compliance with HOS regulations by placing electronic on-board recorders in participating trucks – paid for by U.S. taxpayers – nobody believes that level of oversight will exist after the DOT completes this pilot program.
“Once this project is over, everything will return to business as usual,” he said, “which means we can have no assurance that when drivers enter our country, they will not have been driving for more than is legally allowed.”
A longtime opponent of the cross-border program, Congressman Hunter spoke of economic woes and the spiraling job situation. “We are handing it over to corporate greed,” he said. “Truck drivers who would love to be doing these jobs … will see those jobs go to Mexico.”
Hunter also spoke to the crime situation, saying “narco drug lords will take advantage of this program and the American people will pay the price.”
Congressman Filner, representing the California district bordering Mexico, said: “All the trucker folks I represent will lose their jobs if this goes forward. This program is a danger to jobs, a danger to the environment, and a danger to people on the roads who will pay a heavy price.”
Hoffa represented the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “This program is playing Russian roulette with highway safety,” he told the crowd. LL