Thursday, February 26, 2009

Unions Back Bill Trying to Stop Mexican Trucks in US

Unions back bill trying to stop Mexican trucks in U.S.

By ANABELLE GARAY

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Union officials were confident Tuesday that new legislation in Congress would halt Mexican trucks from making long-haul trips into the United States.

A $410 billion spending bill House Democrats presented on Monday includes language that would prevent Mexican-licensed trucks from traveling beyond commercial zones along the U.S.-Mexico border. The wording is aimed at ending a pilot program backed by the George W. Bush administration that permitted up to 500 U.S.-certified trucks access deep into the U.S.

“This is a really big win for us,” said Leslie Miller, an International Brotherhood of Teamsters spokeswoman. “Historically, there has been very, very strong support” for ending the Mexican truck program.

The legislation was expected to clear the House this week, and the Senate could take it up next week.

Lawmakers — including then-Sen. Barack Obama — previously attempted to stop the program by prohibiting spending to establish it. But the Bush administration contended the funding ban didn’t apply to implementation of a program that had already started.

The Teamsters Union, Sierra Club and Public Citizen filed a lawsuit in 2007 seeking to block the program.

The Bush administration said open U.S. roads to Mexican truckers was a necessary part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Supporters of the plan said letting Mexican trucks farther into the U.S. would save consumers hundreds of millions of dollars and give U.S. trucking companies access to Mexico.

Independent truck owners, environmental groups and the Teamsters argued the program would eliminate U.S. jobs and that Mexican trucks weren’t safe for U.S. highways.

“Our position has been that these trucks are not held to the same standard as our trucks. Their drivers are not held to the same standards as our drivers,” Miller said.

The sharply worded section of the appropriations bill in the House says funds provided cannot be used to establish, implement, continue, promote or permit Mexican motor carriers to operate beyond the border commercial zones. It goes on to say any such program started before the date the legislation’s enactment would also be included in the ban.

The language “is clear, strong, and leaves absolutely no wiggle room, and I’m glad this Mexican trucking program will soon come to an end,” U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, a vocal opponent of the program, said in a statement.

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