Truckers secure deal to end port dispute: Union praises premier’s office, slams feds

Premier Christy Clark
Premier Christy Clark with ministers and union leaders. Official photo
TRUCK drivers reached an agreement on Wednesday with the federal and provincial governments and Port Metro Vancouver.

“We have been clear from the very beginning that negotiation is the only way to achieve labour peace,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “We were not going to have a plan imposed on us. Respect for workers’ rights and good faith negotiation is what is in the best interest of workers and the broader public. We were not going to be moved on this.”

Intense bargaining took place throughout the day on Wednesday. Unifor said that the involvement of the premier’s office was important to breaking the impasse.

“From the beginning, we knew that negotiation was the only want to end this dispute,” said Dias. “And we have said throughout this, that we were willing and eager to negotiate around the clock. We understood the significance of the work stoppage. We are frustrated that federal Transportation Minister Raitt did not share this understanding. This work stoppage was protracted because of the unwillingness of minister Raitt to participate in the necessary dialogue.”

Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association (VCTA) collective agreement expired in June 2012. During that time, the union had been raising concerns that long line-ups and wait times at the Port of Vancouver were costing truck drivers money. Unifor-VCTA called for increased rates of pay and wanted the rates standardized and enforced across the sector to put an end to under-cutting.

“This is an agreement that working truckers can be satisfied with,” said Paul Johal, Unifor-VCTA president. “We were also in this position in 2005, so enforcement will be critical to keeping the ports open.”
Vince Ready will still be conducting an independent review of the sector.

PETER Hall, an SFU geographer and Urban Studies Program associate professor, said: “While we need to wait for the final agreement, and also to see how rigorously the various audit and regulatory mechanisms are enforced, the trucker’s agreement is potentially quite far-reaching, and could perhaps even lead to a reorganization of the industry.

“The rate and wage increases are significant. Mechanisms to share some of the risks of delay and the costs of efficiency improvements have been proposed, and truckers now have a voice at the table. At the same time, one issue that has the potential to undermine the stability of the industry, collectively bargained trip rates, has been left for further review.”

Vancouver Truckers
Truckers protest in Vancouver. Photo by Chandra Bodalia

FEDERAL Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said Wednesday: “Our Government is pleased that truckers have agreed to get back to work at the Port Metro Vancouver.

“Our economic prosperity, competitiveness and ability for our products to reach new markets depends on a well functioning port.

“We will continue to work with the British Columbia Government and Port Metro Vancouver to ensure truckers get back to work and keep our economy on track.”

ON Monday the provincial government had introduced legislation bringing in a 90-day cooling-off period for the striking Unifor truckers impacting the Port Metro Vancouver.

The government claimed that though its preference was always to see disputes such as this settled through collective bargaining, that had not worked in this situation involving various parties and complex issues. As a result, the provincial and national economies were at risk of long-term damage. It said the cooling-off period would be a reasonable step to get Unifor truckers back on the job, give them time to work toward a solution at the bargaining table, and allow Vince Ready to begin working to help the parties resolve their issues.

During this period any lockout or continued strike activity by Unifor would have triggered significant penalties for either the employer or employees.

On Tuesday, Unifor called on federal Minister of Transportation Lisa Raitt to get to the bargaining table immediately to negotiate a sustainable solution.

“I have called the minister every day since last Thursday, and she won’t even pick up the phone,” Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, said on Monday. “We’re prepared to work around the clock to find a sustainable solution, but Minister Raitt would rather pick a fight than find a solution.”

Involved in the dispute were nearly 200 truck company owners, 1000 non-union drivers, 350 union drivers, the BC government, and the Port bosses. With so many parties involved, Unifor had lobbied to have an independent third party assist with a negotiated settlement.

“Mediator Vince Ready probably could have solved this two weeks ago if minister Raitt was interested in finding a solution,” Dias said. “The minister is kidding herself if she thinks that the solution is forced-work legislation. Workers will not be forced back to work because the minister refuses to sit down and have the dialogue required to find a solution.”