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Surrey truckers rally after being barred from ports

SURREY - One of many Surrey families involved in the port container trucking industry is scrambling to make ends meet following a sudden decision by Port Metro Vancouver to refuse licences to more than 600 truckers.

Michelle Mann, a dispatcher for Safeway Trucking, with whom her husband is also a driver, says the suspension of licenses affects many Surrey residents in the industry, including 84 well-established companies that will likely have to shut down.

"We have all decided we are not giving up. We need to fight for this," said Mann. "Too many families do not know how they will be paying their bills, buying food.... This has hit a lot of people both emotionally and financially."

Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) introduced a new truck licensing system on Feb. 1 as part of an ongoing Joint Action Plan, spearheaded by the federal and provincial governments to revamp the container trucking industry following the 2014 port container truck strike. During that six-week labour stoppage, drivers blamed lax enforcement for the undercutting of industry rates set by the provincial government which guarantees drivers a minimum fee for deliveries.

But Mann said many companies affected by license suspensions are based on the actions of a few individual drivers.

"There's one or two bad apples out there," she said. "I admit there were some. But it wasn't 84 companies worth."

Instead of targeting individuals or companies that are undercutting rates, Mann said PMV took a blanket approach that doesn't address undercutting.

"I know there are companies out there right now going to our customers and saying, 'I'll do it for $50, $60 cheaper.' Well, how are they doing that with the new license?" Mann started a Facebook page entitled "Port Metro Vancouver new TLS -600 drivers, 80 companies out of work" which has over 260 "likes." She has used the page to conduct numerous protests in Surrey and throughout Metro Vancouver, including a rally on Friday (Feb. 6) in front of Vancouver Art Gallery.

"The whole point of this is we're not going anywhere. We're not going quietly and we're just going to keep fighting."

Manny Dhillon, a former Surrey driver who lost his job following the strike last March, attended a rally on Highway 91 in Delta last Monday (Feb. 2). A member of the nonunionized United Truckers Association, he said up to 200 members are affected by the sudden suspensions.

Dhillon said some members who have been licensed in the system for more than 25 years are suddenly left on the outside looking in.

"We agreed with PMV that there are too many people chasing too few containers but instead of going with the seniority method, you know people last in the system should be out first, they pick and choose people and throw them out," he said.

Dhillon said drivers are also fed up that the Joint Action Plan, which was supposed to be implemented within 90 days, still hasn't been completed and that undercutting continues to happen.

"Instead of solving the problem, they're just escalating it day by day. I don't know what they're going to achieve by this."

Dhillon said even unionized employees have been affected by the move, with five of the companies affected represented by Unifor.

"It's a really tough situation for all these guys now. PMV is putting this dictatorship on these drivers that work to pull containers from the port."

On Feb. 3, PMV released a statement indicating drivers barred from the licensing system will be sent an application form and details on how they can receive "transition support payments" as a form of severance.

"Some drivers may be eligible for up to $15,000, depending on how much work they have done at the port in the past seven months and provided they are not participating in disruptive activities that have an adverse effect on the port, its tenants or its neighbours," said Peter Xotta, vice president of planning and operations for the port.

According to the press release, 13 of the 14 action items in the Joint Action Plan have now been completed.

Xotta said reforms to the licensing system include reducing the number of trucks approved to service the port terminals because there were too many trucks for the amount of available containers.

"This change was requested by drivers, trucking companies and others during extensive consultation done in the fall because drivers stated they could not get enough work to make a decent living," he said. "Independent operators are self-employed truck owners, and the transition support program is an opportunity being offered to help them while they find other work."