Letters to the Editor

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Hoffa: 'Safety Not a Racial Issue'

Re: ‘Racism’ Seen in Liberals’ Opposition to Mexican Truckers, a news article by Michelle Chen

Friday, March 30, 2007

Dear Editors,

Michelle Chen's article is filled with misinformation. The headline completely misses the mark – it is not substantiated or backed up in any shape or form in the article. How is it racism to fight for safe highways?

The Teamsters Union and safety advocate Public Citizen have been longtime, vocal opponents to allowing Mexican trucking companies unfettered access to American highways. It is disingenuous for The NewStandard to imply that our union or Public Citizen is guilty of protectionism or racism.

As the reporter mentions in her article, I have testified before House and Senate committees on this issue. In both hearings, broad opposition to opening the border came from both sides of the aisle – Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. Perhaps Ms. Chen missed this in her review of the testimony. If her intent is to suggest liberals are guilty of protectionism and racism, she must also point the journalistic finger at conservatives.

The Teamsters Union has fought against opening the border for more than a decade. The union has never, nor will ever claim, that Mexican truck drivers don't have the potential to be as safe and as diligent as their American counterparts. What Ms. Chen fails to explore in her article is the constant, ever-present exploitation to which Mexican truckers are subjected that create dangerous situations.

Mexico has virtually no enforceable safety requirements for tractor-trailers and a limited inspection program. There are no enforced hours-of-service regulations or age restrictions. Mexican truck drivers freely speak of doctoring logbooks – which they call "comic books" – and using illegal drugs to help them stay behind the wheel far beyond a safe amount of time.

They don't do this because they want to – they do it because they have to. Mexican truckers are pushed to the limit by their employers and have no recourse to stop to this exploitation. Check out the Teamsters' investigative report "Holding the Line."

As a member of NAFTA, Mexico is required to meet certain safety standards before the border can be opened to the country's motor carriers. More than a decade after NAFTA was enacted, the Mexican government and motor carriers are not meeting these congressionally mandated safety requirements. It's that simple.

–James P. Hoffa
General President
International Brotherhood of Teamsters

The NewStandard Collective Responds:

Mr. Hoffa’s response to TNS’s investigation into the actual threat posed by the introduction of Mexican truckers onto US roads provides no information Michelle Chen and her editor did not take into account during the research phase of our article. We found no one suggesting Mexican trucks and truckers are generally safe, and we never implied as much in our story. What we did find, based on limited available data, is that US-based trucks and truckers appear to be at least as unsafe as their Mexican counterparts who have driven in the US, figures that Mr. Hoffa has regularly failed to mention.

Having read innumerable stories on this subject that have appeared over the past several weeks, we are well aware that opponents of the plan, who may have been unfamiliar with The NewStandard, had no reason to believe we would actually investigate the facts of the matter, rather than just quoting unsupported assertions. The corporate media’s habitual failure to assess the accuracy of sources’ claims on either side of most debates has long seemed like an open invitation to exaggerate, deny or invent facts.

We also understand that TNS’s undeniable sympathies toward organized labor might be perceived as carte blanch to make assertions that even the rabidly anti-labor media has not taken the time to look into. But we have a very strict policy of not conveying sources’ claims without vetting them first, which we understand must be frustrating to sources that are used to treating reporters as glorified stenographers.

We could not agree more with Mr. Hoffa’s statement that "safety is not a racial issue." We cannot and did not claim that either the Teamsters union or Public Citizen was basing its stance on racial prejudice. Since we could find no documentary support for claims about safety, we thought it pertinent to expose other possible motives for opposition to the pilot program. And Michelle Chen did talk to very reliable sources who expressed concerns that racism, xenophobia and protectionism were behind the opponents’ stance. We do not claim to know the real motives – hence the word "racism" appeared in quotes in the headline.

To help clarify the rhetoric that has colored this debate, we encourage readers to review the Teamsters' "investigative report" Mr. Hoffa cites in his letter. While it offers only anecdotal evidence that Mexican truckers pose a particular road hazard, and draws no tangible comparisons or contrasts between them and their counterparts north of the border, its language ironically seems to uphold the gravest fears of xenophobia leveled by critics of the Teamsters’ position. Referring to the plan to allow select Mexican truck fleets into the US as floating "over the horizon like an approaching storm at sea" and calling drivers who might enter the US "shock troops" sounds troublingly xenophobic to us. The wholly unsubstantiated claim that "all [Mexican] truck drivers" are "drug-addicted" deserves no response. The charge of Mexican truckers’ allegedly frequent encounters with prostitutes (the reporter callously tells us "A [Mexican] woman costs about $20…"!) is not just rude, irrelevant and none of our business; it is laughable when implied to contrast with the lifestyles of some American truckers.

At The NewStandard, we have demonstrated more compassion for the US workforce and union movements than perhaps any other generally focused hard-news organization in the country. But we also know that to assume the American trucking system does not regularly pressure truckers to violate federal and state regulations would be journalistically irresponsible.

While we (like the Teamsters) have few reliable statistics to draw a comparison on many of these matters (hence we avoided the more-inflammatory issues in our own article), unlike some, we opted not to invent any. We did not approach the issue with an agenda to bolster one side of the debate. (In fact, we originally approached the story assuming the available facts would support the mainstream opposition’s claim before quickly discovering otherwise.)

Since Mexican truckers will be governed by the same regulations as US drivers, the story simply is not about what they now get away with in Mexico. Surely we cannot assume that in the current political climate, Mexican nationals will face less scrutiny under US federal and state enforcement regimes compared to American citizen drivers, the vast majority of whom are white, according to a 2005 report by Global Insight. Indeed, excepting the possibility of a high-level conspiracy to give Hispanic truckers a collective pass on US roadways, it is only logical to expect those newly introduced drivers will face the same prejudices Latinos encounter everywhere from law enforcement personnel in the United States – that is, disproportionately strong "oversight."

Finally, on the charge that conservatives must be guilty of racism and protectionism on this matter if liberals are, we can only shrug. Stating the obvious is a no-no in headline writing, and TNS has a habit of avoiding low-hanging fruit.

–TNS Staff Collective

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.