Cross-border battle not over

By Jim Johnston, OOIDA President and CEO

Since NAFTA came into force in 1994, OOIDA has fought hard against an ill-considered part of the trade agreement that was made with no regard to one critical element – cross-border trucking.

In the early ’90s, I recall poring over the land transportation-related provisions of NAFTA and the alarm bells going off over the obvious inequities for U.S. truckers. NAFTA was going to hugely complicate trucking.

When President George H.W. Bush declared NAFTA negotiations complete on Aug. 12, 1992 – it was already under fire by OOIDA. We (OOIDA executives, our board members, attorneys and our regulatory people) had already been making trips to the border and beyond to learn what we could.

The history of our long crusade to guarantee us a safe transportation system is one of gains and setbacks. The Association and its members are not the only ones who have pushed back against cross-border trucking. Teamsters and Public Citizen plus many individual lawmakers have stood up to say that opening the border does not make any sense. They “get” it and are not afraid to say so.

In July of last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. ruled against OOIDA and the Teamsters and decided that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration could continue its cross-border trucking program. The senior judge in the three-judge panel respectfully dissented.

Judge David Sentelle wrote that “The court’s opinion today departs from the precedents of the Supreme Court and this circuit, and is not founded in the Constitution.” Judge Sentelle also stated that the court should grant the petition for review and “vacate this unlawful rule.”

OOIDA and the Teamsters Union subsequently took the case to the United States Supreme Court and petitioned for the high court to review the lower court’s decision.

OOIDA has long argued that the international agreement that drivers’ licenses for Mexican truck operators are the equivalent of those required by U.S. drivers is flawed. OOIDA contended that federal CDL statutes are far more stringent for U.S. drivers and that the differences between the two licensing systems can only be reconciled in an authorizing bill rather than an appropriations bill, as was the case with FMCSA’s pilot program.

The lack of participation in the pilot program in place right now is telling. Hardly anyone based down there wants to come here and vice versa.

On Jan. 10, the court announced that it had decided not to hear the case.

Since we stood up to stop this premature and poorly thought out plan many years ago, it was always a possibility we might not be able to successfully talk sense into those recklessly determined to open the borders. This refusal by the Supreme Court is very disappointing.

However, no matter what the agency does or what the courts rule, those who actually drive a truck in the U.S. know there is no comparison between the hoops they have to jump through and what is done south of the border. For policymakers and others to somehow suggest it’s all the same is naive.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear our most recent case does not equal an end of the fight.  It’s not unheard of for policies to change due to unrelenting advocacy and grassroots efforts even without a change in law.

And that’s why OOIDA and many like-minded truckers and non-truckers will never stop working to persistently focus on the troubled program’s problems until it’s done right. LL