Peter Xotta

Divided workers, politicians complicate port truckers strike

Some drivers still loading at terminals, business leaders 'deeply troubled' by trade disruption

The union representing some Lower Mainland container truckers says finger pointing between the federal and provincial governments underscores how difficult it will be to end a strike crippling Port Metro Vancouver shipments.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Christy Clark on Wednesday called the shutdown of most container shipments by truck unacceptable, but then both called on the other level of government to act, saying it’s not their primary jurisdiction.

Unifor B.C. area director Gavin McGarrigle said the fragmented container trucking industry will continue to be plagued by rate undercutting by various players unless it’s reformed and governed by an over-arching agreement.

Currently, some drivers are paid per container hauled while others get hourly wages, depending on whether they are unionized, working for non-union trucking companies or are independent owner-operators.

Unionized trucking firms refuse to sign new contracts with Unifor because they’ll immediately be underbid by the rest of the industry, McGarrigle said.

“It’s a mess, it’s crazy,” he said.

“There are about 180 different employers, there are unions, non-union (groups), fake unions, associations, lobby groups. But there’s nobody that has the ability to sit down and bargain a wall-to-wall agreement. And that’s what’s needed to stop this undercutting once and for all.”

Nearly 300 Unifor-represented container truckers have been on strike since Monday, joining several hundred more non-union owner-operators with the United Trucking Association who walked off the job about 10 days earlier.

Port Metro Vancouver officials said some drivers not part of the walkout are continuing to haul.

Spokesman John Parker-Jervis said container truck loading was about 10 to 15 per cent of normal earlier in the week, but that climbed to 24 per cent on Wednesday.

He said the port’s offer of ride-along security for drivers that continue to work may be “providing some comfort.”

But the crimp on shipments in and out of the port is beginning to be felt, reducing the normal flow into B.C. of imports ranging from South American wine to Asian consumer electronics.

While many firms are looking to redirect shipments through other ports like Seattle, that’s also expensive and disruptive.

B.C. Business Council executive director Jock Finlayson said the complex dispute is already causing economic hardship.

“It is doing damage to the reputation of this region as a reliable trade gateway,” Finlayson said. “If the dispute persists, the damage can only increase.”

The port is also crucial to resource industry exporters – from B.C. forest companies to Prairie grain farmers.

Finlayson said business leaders are “deeply troubled” and strong government action is needed.

Groups representing drivers say they’re paid on average $15.59 an hour compared to about $23 an hour in the B.C. trucking industry as a whole.

Peter Xotta, Port Metro Vancouver’s vice-president of planning and operations, said said the port makes no apologies for filing a lawsuit for damages against the United Truckers Association, which it blames for violence and intimidation at terminals.

“We’re going to take any step we can to encourage the parties to stop that behaviour and get back to work, including legal recourse,” he said.

Xotta said the port had been close to unrolling one reform aimed at improving work conditions – extended terminal hours so some trucks can move in the evenings, reducing lineups and wait times during the day.

The challenge has been ensuring shippers and other facilities are also open to send or receive containers at night, he said.

One option under consideration has been a differential port access fee where it would cost truckers less to load at night than during the day, helping subsidize a shift to evenings.

But drivers aren’t necessarily keen on the idea.

“That’s a solution that benefits the trucking company owners and doesn’t really do much for the workers,” McGarrigle said.

Just Posted

Most cows saved during massive fire on Agassiz farm thanks to fast work of farmers, neighbours

Agassiz Fire Department responded to late night call Wednesday

Risk of thunderstorm this afternoon for Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland

A special weather statement calls for heavy rain and wind over the next 48 hours

Massive fire destroys Agassiz dairy barn

Reports say at least one cow died in the blaze

First court date in Chilliwack for man accused of murdering Belgian tourist

Family and friends of Sean McKenzie, 27, filled the gallery for brief court appearance Wednesday

Another successful year for Chilliwack’s ‘We Got Your Back’ backpack program

Sponsored by local businesses, program stocks backpacks with school supplies for students in need

VIDEO: Neighbours fear impact of B.C. tent city residents

Greater Victoria residents opposed to campers voice concerns at provincial campground

B.C. premier apologizes for removal of 1950s totem pole at Canada-U.S. border

First Nations say pole was raised at Peace Arch but removed to make way for tourism centre

Tornado touches down in Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.

Environment Canada says cars and homes have been damaged by severe thunderstorms and high wind gusts

An unexpected sight: Bear spotted eating another bear in central B.C.

Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief finds bear eating another bear’s carcass

Free vet clinic caters to pets of homeless, low income people

The first such clinic in Langley will take place later this month.

RCMP confirm death of missing BC teen Jessica Patrick

No details on cause were given. Case is under criminal investigation and police are asking for tips.

Extradition hearing set for Lower Mainland developer accused of fraud

Mark Chandler will go before the B.C. Court of Appeals early next year.

CUTENESS OVERLOAD: 2 sea otters hold hands at the Vancouver Aquarium

Holding hands is a common – and adorable – way for otters to stay safe in the water

B.C. teen with autism a talented guitarist

Farley Mifsud is gaining fans with every performance

Most Read