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Teamsters buy air time about Mexican truck safety

July 27, 2001|By MARINE COLE, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has bought radio time for a commercial expressing their concerns about the safety of Mexican trucks that would cross the southwest border to enter the United States under the North America Free Trade Agreement.

"The Teamsters are taking the next step in the fight to keep U.S. highways and motorists safe," said James P. Hoffa, the union president. "Our members have met with Congress, held rallies and written letters in an effort to raise awareness of this important safety issue. Now that legislators from both political parties are joining our fight, it is important that the Teamsters do everything possible to ensure that safety wins over corporate profits."

The commercial will run in the Washington area on some 10 news and public affairs radio stations, including the all-news station WTOP for at least a week as the Senate approaches a vote on a transportation appropriation bill that includes money to pay for safety inspections of the foreign trucks.

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The bill contains a provision that would bar the necessary funds for processing Mexican carrier applications until major improvements are made providing full-time inspection facilities at the border, a process the Teamsters say could take two to three years.

The union said it might run the commercial again if the provision does not succeed.

"This is where every congressman listens to get his news," said Rick Silipigni, account manager of WTOP. "Our public is the government."

He said it is common that unions and other organizations use his radio station to convey their message to members of Congress.

Silipigni also said the Mexican government might run its own commercial in response.

"It's just another way of helping educating Congress and the public on the critical safety issues of cross-border trucking," said Rob Black, spokesman for the Teamsters.

The Teamsters spent about $50,000 on the 60-second commercial and worked with a Washington political media firm, Greener and Hook, to produce it. Greener and Hook have several clients including the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Americans for Free and International Trade and were hired for the 2000 Republican National Convention.

"Democrats and Republicans in Congress agree," the voice in the commercial states, "the president should be sure we can protect the safety of our highways before we open the border."

"The Mexican government should meet their end of the NAFTA bargain and establish a real truck safety program." it continues. "Tell President Bush: slow down, keep our highways safe."

Bush threatened to veto any legislation like last month's House bill that would prevent the United States from complying with the NAFTA requirement to open the border to Mexican trucks.

"Unless changes are made to the Senate bill, the president's senior advisers will recommend that the president veto the bill," said the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Last week, at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation where Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta was explaining the administration's plan to develop safety inspections, Hoffa testified.

"In general, the Teamsters union believes that the United States is not prepared to begin approving Mexican carrier applications to operate throughout the United States because the safety of Mexican carriers cannot be assured," he said.

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