Q: Did a Teamsters strike hinder aid efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria?
A: No. Stories claiming so misrepresented an actual quote from an Air Force colonel.
Did the Teamsters strike in Puerto Rico hinder the supplies getting to those in need?
Distribution of aid in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria wasn’t delayed by a Teamsters strike, as has been widely circulated online.
There was, in fact, no strike.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters issued a statement on Oct. 2 denouncing the claim.
“Let me be clear – Teamsters in Puerto Rico have been working on the relief efforts since day one,” Alexis Rodriguez, the secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters in Puerto Rico, said in the statement. “Anyone that has reported anything different is lying. Our only agenda is to help bring Puerto Rico back better and stronger.”
Half a dozen stories became popular on Facebook — and were flagged as suspicious by our readers and Facebook users — that claimed food, water and medicine had piled up at the ports instead of getting to victims of the hurricane because members of the Teamsters union hadn’t been showing up to work.
Several sites ran very similar stories, including the popular conservative outlet infowars.com, which used the headline: “BOMBSHELL: DEMS/TEAMSTERS ORDER PUERTO RICAN STAND-DOWN TO EMBARRASS TRUMP.”
The stories were largely based on a HuffPost article that had quoted Col. Michael Valle, who is handling relief efforts on the island for the U.S. Air Force. The bogus stories, though, misrepresent what he said by using only partial quotes.
For example, the stories correctly paraphrase Valle as saying that plenty of supplies — including generators, water, food, medicine, and fuel — had been sent to Puerto Rico and then they accurately cite his quote that says:
“It’s a lack of drivers for the transport trucks, the 18 wheelers. 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% of the truck drivers show up to work.”
What the stories don’t include, though, is what Valle said immediately after that, which is: “There should be zero blame on the drivers. 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.”
That sentiment — that the condition of the roads and lack of fuel has hindered the relief effort — is backed up by statements from Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“You don’t just bring the commodities in, you have to be able to pump them down the roadway systems that we have been working desperately to get open,” he said on Fox News on Oct. 1.
“We’ve opened up 11 major highways, but this morning there are over 3,200 different problems reported with the roadway systems — from bridges missing, to roads being blocked by flood waters, to roads just disappeared because of landslides,” he said.
Long emphasized later that day on ABC News that local support efforts in Puerto Rico have been slowed by the sheer magnitude of the disaster. “They got a hard hit,” he said, explaining that the island was struck by not one, but two hurricanes in less than two weeks.
“A lot of the infrastructure was damaged by Irma,” Long said on Fox News, “then Maria comes in and finishes it off completely.”
A website called The Conservative Treehouse included the clip in its story with a caption that says, in English: “Puerto Rican union leader won’t let drivers go to work.”
But the clip’s original caption actually says: “Victor Rodriguez of the Broad Front of Truck Drivers blames the governor that there is no diesel gas in the stations.” We used Google Translate to get the English version of the original Spanish caption.
In the days after Maria hit, there were major fuel shortages across the island. As of Oct. 10, 860 of the island’s 1,100 gas stations were open, according to a website maintained by the Puerto Rican government.
At no point in the video does Rodriguez say that there is a strike.
And, according to Lauren Hartnett, a spokeswoman for Oxfam America, an aid agency that has been participating in Hurricane Maria relief in Puerto Rico, staff on the ground confirm that there is no truck drivers’ strike. Rather, relief efforts have been stymied by a lack of local infrastructure and leadership from the top.
Teamsters Union. Statement. Teamster.org. 2 Oct 2017.
White, Jamie. “BOMBSHELL: DEMS/TEAMSTERS ORDER PUERTO RICAN STAND-DOWN TO EMBARRASS TRUMP.” Infowars.com. 1 Oct 2017.
Hayes, Penelope Jean. “U.S. MILITARY ON PUERTO RICO: ‘THE PROBLEM IS DISTRIBUTION’ AND HERE’S WHY.” Huffingtonpost.com. 29 Sep 2017.
Long, Brock. Biography. FEMA.gov. Accessed 6 Oct 2017.
Long, Brock. Interviewed on Fox News. 1 Oct 2017.
Long, Brock. Interviewed on ABC News. 1 Oct. 2017.
FEMA. “Coordinated Federal Response to Dangerous Hurricane Irma Continues.” FEMA.gov. 8 Sep 2017.
FEMA. “Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria.” FEMA.gov. Accessed 6 Oct 2017.
Certificate of incorporation. Puerto Rican Registry of Corporations and Entities. Accessed 9 Oct 2017.
“Report: Puerto Rico Truckers Union, ‘Frente Amplio,’ Refuse to Deliver Supplies — Use Hurricane Maria as Contract Leverage.” Theconservativetreehouse.com. 30 Sep 2017.
“Camioneros culpan al Gobierno por falta de gasolina.” Wapa.tv. 24 Sep 2017.
Domonoske, Camila. “At A Gas Station With No Gas, Puerto Ricans Settle In For An Interminable Wait.” NPR.org. 26 Sep 2017.
StatusPR. Dashboard. Accessed 9 Oct 2017.