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Drayage Sector Warns of Strike at Port Metro VancouverWednesday, July 23, 2014 > 09:54:06
(Journal of Commerce – Bill Mongelluzzo)
The union representing about 400 harbor truck drivers at Port Metro Vancouver has given Canadian officials until July 30 to enforce government-mandated pay rates for drivers, or face another possible trucker strike at Canada’s largest port.
“We will reconvene next Wednesday. We expect time frames,” said Gavin McGarrigle, director of the driver’s union known as Unifor.
McGarrigle met Monday with the federal government’s minister of transportation, Lisa Raitt, and British Columbia’s minister of transportation, Todd Stone, to discuss what he termed trucking companies’ widespread violation of the new trucking rates announced in March by federal mediator Vince Ready. Representatives of the more than 1,000 non-unionized drivers in Vancouver were also at the meeting.
The rates negotiated by Ready increased driver wages by 12% and doubled the fuel surcharge, which trucking companies must pass along to the drivers. It was negotiation of those rate increases that convinced both unionized and non-unionized drivers to call off a month-long strike that had crippled the Pacific Coast port.
However, more than three months later, many harbor trucking companies are still not adhering to the rate increases, McGarrigle said. He said the drayage companies continue to display a “Wild West” mentality and, at the urging of many importers and exporters, undercut each other on rates to capture business.
Trucking company executives, however, say many of the approximately 180 drayage companies that regularly serve the harbor are paying the higher rates. They note that since turn times at the marine terminal gates have also improved considerably since March, they don’t understand why the drivers are complaining.
Port Metro Vancouver and Canada’s federal and provincial governments in March announced a 14-point action plan designed to improve turn times in the harbor and ensure that all trucking companies adhere to the higher rates. A whistleblower program was established for drivers to anonymously report violations.
Louise Yako, president of the British Columbia Trucking Association, said trucker turn times today are noticeably better than they were during the winter when the marine terminals were congested and drivers were sitting in line for two hours or more.
Vancouver does, however, continue to experience the impact of higher container volumes, most likely resulting from a diversion of cargo from U.S. West Coast ports while longshore contract negotiations have dragged on beyond the July 1 deadline. Although Canadian National Railway is allocating slots on its intermodal trains, causing some backlogging of containers at the port, that cargo is destined for U.S. destinations and is not affecting trucker turn times for local cargo, she said.
McGarrigle said the drivers have done their part to comply with the 14-point action plan, and have attended the weekly meetings with port and government officials, but there are still too many trucking companies not paying the agreed-upon rates.
Unifor is still in a “legal strike position,” which is similar to working without a contract and means the members can walk off their jobs at any time. McGarrigle said he was frank in his comments to government officials on Monday, and he expects results when they reconvene next week. “Patience is running out,” he said.