Strike on. Starting early Monday morning, unionized container truck drivers will be walking the picket line at Port Metro Vancouver.
Drivers represented by Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association (VCTA) won’t be alone in their protest, as members of the non-unionized United Truckers Association (UTA) have been protesting at the port since February 26.
Members of both organizations voted on Saturday to reject a deal created with the goal of establishing a temporary labour peace. UTA reported 100% of its members voted against the deal, while VCTA said 98% of its members were against it.
As reported earlier, Vincent Ready was appointed by the federal transportation minister, Lisa Raitt, to serve as a mediator in the ongoing labour dispute between drivers and employers at the port. The same day he was appointed, word came that that VCTA and UTA would be taking a deal back and presenting it to their members.
The point of the deal was to create a situation where the UTA would go back to work, VCTA would forego striking (the union was in a legal strike position) and Ready would prepare a report about working conditions at the port and submit it to the federal and provincial governments by May 30.
“We were kind of taken back with how fast things were thrown on the table. We figured there might have been enough there to convince us all to get back to work while Mr. Ready does his report and makes his recommendations, but obviously there were issues with that package and it was rejected,” said Manny Dosange, UTA spokesperson for government and public affairs.
“Basically it was a return to work agreement. For two-and-a-half months, they were supposed to stabilize the working conditions so they guys could get back to work and start making a fair living in order to pay bills,” he told Truck News.
“What happened is they went from their regular income and it dropped by two-thirds to the point where they were struggling. We want to have the terminal services brought up so they were making their full turns, so they’d be delivering five or six deliveries a day. There was nothing in that language that convinced the membership that was going to happen. Their fear was the drivers would get back to work and things would be nice and easy going for a week or two and after that they’d start playing silly bugger and we’d be right back to square one or even worse.”
Speaking to Canadian Shipper's sister website Truck News, Gavin McGarrigle, spokesperson for Unifor, described the negotiation process.
“We went in with Mr. Ready. There was a regional director there from Transport Canada and an assistant deputy minister there from the provincial Ministry of Transportation. Mr. Ready outlined the terms of reference and what was going to be covered in his review, which is all positive. We put forward some proposals to deal with the immediate situation and Mr. Ready tried his best to facilitate discussions between ourselves and Port Metro Vancouver,” he said.
“Through those discussions it was made clear there was no appetite for immediate changes. There were just protocol issues. But we thought we should take this to our members, just to ask are they prepared to stand down for 90 days until we can hear from this. The overwhelming response from both sides was no, the conditions are too dire, they need to see some immediate improvement. That’s why the result was 98% on our side.”
The dire conditions UTA and VCTA object to include undercutting of rates, long wait-times at the port, concerns about fees and licences imposed by Port Metro Vancouver, and truckers not being permitted to have an active part in negotiations or ongoing discussions about port operations.
“These guys, they’ve been pushed around a lot,” said Dosange. “We’ve been trying to get to the table for seven or eight months prior to getting here. [The drivers] did everything by the book and were gentlemen in doing so, and nobody listened to them. Now the tables are turned, so to speak, and it’s a big jump to get everything back to work and get things fixed, and yet there are no solutions. Rather they are putting all their time and energy making backdoor deals with the BCTA [British Columbia Trucking Association]. There is no trust towards Port Metro Vancouver or BCTA at this point.”
Like Dosange, McGarrigle said the union feels like it is left on the sidelines. He also said, but his members aren’t the only ones who haven’t been invited to the table. In fact, he says the entire negotiation structure isn’t conducive to being able to reach a deal.
“Part of the problem is the way the federal and provincial government appointed Mr. Ready is they haven’t really appointed him with any authority to force a resolution to the problem. We think they need to give him the tools to do that and get everybody around the table.
“At our meeting the other day, one of the significant groups wasn’t there: all of the employers. And a big part of the problem is there is no single group that speaks for all the employers. On the dock side, there is the BCMEA, which is the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association. They bargain with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union [ILWU]. They have their bumps in the road, but they eventually reach agreements. On the rail side you have CN and CP and of course they’re unionized, and they have their bumps in the road and they reach agreements.
“But if you look at the container truck side, which is 50% of the traffic, you’ve got something like over 180 different employers, different unions, fake unions, you’ve got associations, it’s the wild west out there. Who do you bargain with is the question.”
Although contracts and employment agreements exist between the drivers and their employers and not with the port itself, both Dosange and McGarrigle say Port Metro Vancouver ultimately controls the fate of drivers, and nobody—including the various levels of government—has done anything to put that power in check.
McGarrigle said in addition to imposing licensing fees, and limiting who comes into and out of the port through its truck licensing system (TLS), the port also imposes restrictions on the vehicles the drivers use.
“They’ve put in requirements for trucks that aren’t the requirements for the main streets, so even those a truck could be perfectly legitimate, pass the [British Columbia Ministry of Transportation] AirCare [program], pass all the emissions standards and pass all the provincial requirements, when they go into the port there’s a higher level of requirements: a diesel oxidation catalyst. It’s emissions control, which essentially means your truck needs to be 2006 or newer. So even if your truck is year 2000 unless you pay for this expensive upgrade, you aren’t allowed to come into the port, even though you can get pulled over half a kilometre from the port and go to a commercial vehicle inspection and meet every test with flying colours. It’s not good enough for the port. They use this to tout themselves as the greenest port around, meanwhile their gantries and their equipment they are using in the port is whatever they feel like. It doesn’t even apply to other types of trucks like concrete trucks that are going in. Again, it’s just downloading the cost on container trucks, and there is no input from container truckers on that.”
The UTA, which Dosange said has approximately 1,200 registered members and another 200 completing the registration process, has had members protesting both at the port itself and off-docks at sites used to store empty containers. Over the course of the protest, Port Metro Vancouver has accused UTA members of engaging in “highly disturbing behaviour by some protesting truckers, including threats, intimidation and bodily harm towards those with legitimate right to carry on the business of Lower Mainland ports.”
The port also claims to have video showing “members of the United Truckers Association stopping and possibly vandalizing a truck that was trying to gain access to the port.”
According to the port “law enforcement officials have also taken affidavits from witnesses to threats, intimidation and/or sabotage of trucks and/or property. The port will wherever possible, identify these individuals and their licenses to access port property will be terminated.”
Dosange takes issues with the ports claims and objects to actions taken against his members by the port.
“What Port Metro Vancouver is doing with BCTA is making things worse. Now they’ve got a lawsuit against our members. They’ve terminated 40 TLS licences, you need that licence to enter port property to work. There has been about 40-plus people terminated from their jobs because of this.
“We’re taking the stance that this is a negative campaign by Port Metro Vancouver and BCTA. Firstly, in the lawsuit, it’s assuming that anybody found guilty on so-called evidence that Port Metro Vancouver has acquired is a member of the UTA. It also says in the lawsuit and the injunction that these people are unidentified: they’re John Doe and Jane Doe and unknown persons. We’re saying if you don’t even know who these people are, how are you assuming they’re our members? We’ve got situations where there are people from trucking companies, and trucking owners, and drivers that aren’t part of us, but who are taking part [in this protest] too. UTA is getting the finger pointed at us.
“Louise Yako from BCTA has basically said we were left out of the process because we were a bunch of hoodlums. My first point is there are no charges being laid against anybody. There are no victims that have come forward as being supposedly physically abused of having been caused bodily harm. So how they justify their comments? And if there is such a case, let the legal system do its part. If they are charged and they are found guilty, we’d stand behind Port Metro Vancouver 100% to revoke their licences, because we are not condoning any violence. We’re not preaching it and we’re not tolerating it but in the meantime, they’re defaming our character and we’re not going to take that lying down. We’re looking at maybe addressing defamation of character in this process.”
Still despite the animosity that seems to be growing during this period of labour unrest, both Dosange and McGarrigle insist they want nothing more than to work thing out with employers and with the port. Dosange can even envision his organization working with Port Metro Vancouver to ensure whatever agreement is negotiated will be adhered to.
“We are going to police our own [industry] and work in conjunction with Port Metro Vancouver. What we want to achieve out of that is a whistle blower policy. So if somebody comes forward to us and says X company is paying their drivers $80 per hour [instead of $100—the hourly rate UTA would like to see agreed upon] and aren’t living up to the agreement, we’re saying the driver and the company that are caught doing that should both have their TLSes revoked, then they’ve made their own bed.
“When this is all said and done, everybody starts with a clean slate and given the opportunity to do things the right way and make a decent living and if somebody wants to mess around with destabilizing the industry again and have everybody—and I mean all Canadians because this is the front door to the import and export world, suffer for it—then they should be removed from the industry, because obviously all they are thinking about is themselves and we don’t need people like that on our team.”
And it's not just Port Metro Vancouver that Dosange wants a closer working relationship with. He wants to see customers have more of a say in what goes on as well.
"This isn’t just about trucking we are standing up for. We want to have a three pillar approach. We want to get the customers involved that are getting the import/export. We want the trucking companies involved that are giving us the work. And obviously the trucking industry. If you’ve got all three working together, I think a lot of the issues we are up against today, we can alleviate for the future and stabilize the industry.
"If the customer that is getting all the import/export work knows the industry is stabilized and has set rates, they can forecast what their business plans will look like for the future, and hence they can then download that information to trucking companies, and say, ‘I want to give you 60,000 turns for the next year so make sure your fleet can handle it. Then the drivers think it’s great because they know they can get five or six turns per day, and I know I can run my household, plus the expenses on my tractor trailer," said Dosange.
It is expected that the VCTA will begin picketing very early in the morning (local time). McGarrigle won’t reveal the actual locations—although Truck News has heard potential targets could ILWU include dispatch hauls, which would put unionized longshoremen in the position having to cross a picket line if they intended to report for work, an action one union is reluctant to take against another—he does expect the strike to have an effect on port operations.
“You will pretty much see the container truck side crippled, and if it is operating, it will be very, very low,” he said.