April 2, 2007: Mexican truckers may not be running U.S. highways in greater numbers any time soon. Funding for the Department of Transportation pilot program that would monitor this traffic was delayed by a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The IBT claimed victory after a major lobbying effort to scuttle the program.
The Bush administration decision to open up limited cross-border truck traffic raised concerns over drivers with lesser qualifications and potentially unsafe equipment, and the possibility of lowering the wage level in the United States. Teamsters should be concerned, especially about the long-term implications.
Short-Term and Long-Term Issues
First, this is primarily about U.S. corporations opening up shop in Mexico. In fact, Mexican truck companies are skeptical of the border opening, because they see U.S. truckload companies, such as Celadon, opening up south of the border to run cross-border freight into the U.S. Some U.S. companies already have 49 percent ownership in Mexican fleets.
Second, this is, at least for now, about truckload freight—highly nonunionized and something the IBT gave up on decades ago. Truckload drivers are already a highly exploited group.
Third, this opening only applies to international freight. Once delivery is made in the U.S., the Mexican-domiciled driver cannot pick up and deliver within the U.S. Analysts expect, at least in the short term, traffic will be near the border, such as to Dallas and Phoenix.
Analysts assert most current Mexican fleets are not ready to meet U.S. safety and environmental standards. The watchdog organization Public Citizen filed suit in early March on safety grounds.
So who really benefits? U.S. based nonunion companies in the TL sector. Instead of paying about 40¢ per mile (including benefits), Mexican-domiciled drivers will be paid about half that rate.
In the future the largest carriers will be interested in an expanded cross-border program, and that is where we need to be focused. UPS, FedEx, YRC, DHL are making long-term plans. Our Teamsters Union needs to think long run, as the industry does. We need to build ties and joint organizing programs with legitimate Mexican unions and organizations to build international solidarity.