A man rides his bicycle through a damaged road in Toa Alta, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on 24 September 2017, following the passage of Hurricane Maria. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo / AFP / Getty Images

By Joshua Gillin
3 October 2017

(Politifact) – 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 30 September 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."

Facebook users flagged the story as being potentially fabricated, as part of the social network’s efforts to curb fake news. Similar headlines appeared on several other links that users questioned.

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.

The other posts all shared the same sentiment, and often included "proof" from more social media posts claiming to know all about the problem.

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.

Sites are picking and choosing details

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. […]

Our ruling

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!  [more]

Fake news posts blame Puerto Rico's truck drivers for refusing to ship relief supplies

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