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Authorities Seek to Ease Growing Drayage Tension at VancouverFriday, June 20, 2014 > 08:49:13
(Journal of Commerce – Bill Mongelluzzo)
Harbor trucking interests at Port Metro Vancouver are working with port and government transport officials to prevent driver unrest from escalating into another damaging strike at Canada’s largest port.
Tensions are increasing in the harbor drayage community because some trucking companies are not paying the wage hikes that were announced by the federal government in March. The rate hikes followed a drivers’ strike that crippled Vancouver for almost the entire month of March.
The job actions by both union and nonunion drivers in March resulted from excessive waiting times at container terminals and a push by drivers for higher wages. Canadian federal and provincial transport ministries and Port Metro Vancouver in late March announced a 14-point action plan to address those issues.
Cargo interests that ship containers to and from the U.S. are concerned by these developments because Vancouver is viewed as an alternative gateway in case a strike or lockout should result from contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and waterfront employers. The current ILWU contract at U.S. West Coast ports expires at midnight June 30.
Although congestion still flares up from time to time in Vancouver, a provision in the action plan to compensate drivers for excessive wait times appears to be working. Louise Yako, president of the British Columbia Trucking Association, said checks covering the period from April 3 to May 31 have been mailed to the trucking companies, and they are distributing the money to the drivers. Some of the payments are “substantial,” she said.
TSI Terminal Systems and DP World (Canada), the two largest container terminal operators in Vancouver, on July 1 will introduce a program of five night gates each week to relieve daytime congestion at the port.
In another step to improve fluidity in the harbor, the federal government on June 13 announced a contribution of $3 million to support the Common Data Interface Project that will use new technology to link terminal operations and possibly form the foundation for a common trucker appointment system.
The main problem in this latest round of tensions is the refusal of some trucking companies to increase the rates paid to drivers. In a joint statement on June 13, the federal and provincial governments said they were “very concerned about the consistent application of these rates and will not hesitate to take action to ensure compliance with the Joint Action Plan.”
The rate hikes announced in March include a 12 percent increase in the minimum rate to be paid to nonunionized owner-operators, and a doubling of the fuel surcharge. The harbor trucking industry in Vancouver includes a mix of nonunionized owner-operators, unionized owner-operators and, at some companies, employee drivers.
Yako said the failure of some trucking companies to pay the higher rates is due in part to confusion in the industry as to which companies are required to pay the higher rates. The government-stipulated rate, however, is only the minimum rate. Companies that do not fall under the decree, such as those with unionized drivers, may end up paying higher rates if that is what they negotiated with their unions.
Tensions in Vancouver have not yet reached the point where there is mass picketing, but government and port leaders are concerned that a driver perception of inaction on their complaints could lead to walkouts and a driver shortage with the summer-fall peak shipping season approaching.
The joint federal and provincial government statement last weekend said authorities are “actively working on rate compliance.”