Conservative news outlets have been spreading a false story online that wrongly says aid to Hurricane Maria victims isn’t being distributed in Puerto Rico because union truck drivers have gone on strike.
The headline on a Sept. 30, 2017, post on The Gateway Pundit read, "San Juan Teamsters didn’t show up for work to distribute relief supplies — U.S. aid rotting at ports."
The post claimed that while the "liberal media" is attacking President Donald Trump’s response to the humanitarian crisis, the real issue is that "the Teamsters Union drivers did not show up to work. Only 20 percent of drivers arrived at the ports to distribute the relief supplies," The Gateway Pundit said.
But they aren’t right to blame union truckers for the lack of movement. It turns out the blog posts are delivering misinformation about this problem.
The Gateway Pundit pointed to another Sept. 30 post from TheConservativeTreehouse.com, which cited a Sept. 29 Huffington Post interview with U.S. Air Force Col. Michael A. Valle. Valle was born in Puerto Rico and was leading Maria relief efforts.
The Conservative Treehouse post included a passage from the interview that said supplies are being sent to Puerto Rico, but not being moved across the island.
"It’s a lack of drivers for the transport trucks, the 18 wheelers," the website quoted Valle as saying. "Supplies we have. Trucks we have. There are ships full of supplies, backed up in the ports, waiting to have a vehicle to unload into. However, only 20 percent of the truck drivers show up to work. These are private citizens in Puerto Rico, paid by companies that are contracted by the government."
Valle did say in the Huffington Post interview that there was a lack of drivers, but he also went on to add the drivers deserved "zero blame:"
"They can’t get to work, the infrastructure is destroyed, they can’t get fuel themselves, and they can’t call us for help because there’s no communication. The will of the people of Puerto Rico is off the charts. The truck drivers have families to take care of, many of them have no food or water. They have to take care of their family’s needs before they go off to work, and once they do go, they can’t call home."
The Conservative Treehouse also posted a video of CNBC’s Contessa Brewer reporting from San Juan as proof of the problem, but ignored the part where Brewer said transportation problems are not the drivers’ fault.
"You’re looking at truck drivers who can’t be reached by their businesses by cell phone, they don’t have the gas to get to work, and then even when they do get to work, their semi-trucks don’t have fuel," Brewer said. "The problem is the supply chain."
She added that Crowley Puerto Rico, a shipping and logistics company, said that getting drivers to the port and back out again was proving to be a challenge.
There has been a definite problem moving supplies that have arrived. On Sept. 29, the same day Valle’s interview was published, the Teamsters sent out a press release asking union truck drivers to volunteer to go to Puerto Rico to help transport supplies. The release warned that it wouldn’t be easy, but fellow union workers needed help.
"At this time, it is unclear if there are trucks available to move the containers, fuel to operate the trucks or road access to the distribution centers," the release read. "However, the labor movement is working on the ground in Puerto Rico to bring volunteers to meet specific needs."
There’s no mention of strike in the press release, and nothing in Valle’s interview about labor unions, so where did the The Conservative Treehouse get that? From an interview with a trucker not affiliated with the Teamsters union.
The blog turned to a Spanish-language interview for Lo Sé Todo on Wapa.tv with Victor Rodriguez, identifying as "the boss of a very sketchy (corrupt and violent) Puerto Rico trucker’s union called Fente Amplio."
Dozens of subsequent posts online identify Frente Amplio (note the different spelling) as the local Teamsters union, which Teamsters spokesman Galen Munroe told us is incorrect. Rodriguez represents the independent Frente Amplio de Camioneros de Puerto Rico (Broad Front of Truck Drivers of Puerto Rico), which is not affiliated with the Teamsters.
TheConservativeTreehouse.com egregiously misrepresented Rodriguez’s interview, translating it to claim that Rodriguez said truck drivers are refusing to work as part of a plan to show up Puerto Rico’s governor.
"Since the country doesn’t care about truckers, the truckers won’t help," TheConservativeTreehouse.com quoted Rodriguez. It credits the reporter with getting Rodriguez to admit his defiance.
In truth, Rodriguez is saying the opposite, that despite a disagreement over a law signed by Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló concerning truck permitting, drivers should help in any way they can. Truckers called off a planned strike because of Hurricane Irma three weeks prior, he said.
Rodriguez did take a swipe at Rosselló, saying long lines are partly his fault, and noted that truckers can’t come down when they are in regions with impassable roads. But by and large, Rodriguez said that truckers are working and doing what they need to do to deliver goods. He even cuts off the reporter at one point for suggesting they are refusing to work.
In response to all the false stories online blaming Teamster drivers, the union released a statement on Oct. 2 that said their members have been working since Maria passed over the island. The statement blamed "online, anti-union sources" for spreading an inaccurate story.
"These viral stories spreading across the internet are nothing but lies perpetrated by anti-union entities to further their destructive agenda," Teamsters president Jim Hoffa said in the release. "The fact that they are attempting to capitalize on the suffering of millions of citizens in Puerto Rico that are (in) dire need of our help by pushing these false stories, just exposes their true nature."
Bloggers said that "San Juan Teamsters didn't show up for work to distribute relief supplies" because they went on strike after Hurricane Maria.
The widespread accusations trace back to a post that selectively edited and mistranslated interviews to make it look like union truckers were being greedy and lazy.
But there’s no strike, and union truck drivers have been trying to move aid shipments across Puerto Rico. There are multiple logistical problems slowing down transport, not the least of which is that some drivers simply can’t get to the port, or drive on impassable roads.
Bloggers are misrepresenting a real humanitarian crisis by blaming trade unions. That drives this rating to Pants On Fire!