Union truckers set to strike after tentative agreement rejected

Union truckers set to strike after tentative agreement rejected

DELTA — Lower Mainland truckers are setting up picket lines at Port Metro Vancouver this morning after both union and non-union drivers overwhelmingly rejected a tentative agreement over the weekend.

On Saturday, more than 300 members of Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association (VCTA) voted unanimously to reject the deal, which came out of Thursday’s meeting with federally appointed mediator Vince Ready.

“Our members have spoken, the deal was too little too late,” said Paul Johal, president of Unifor-VCTA.

The unionized drivers are now joining the more than 1,000 non-union truckers, who began a work stoppage late last month.

On March 1, Unifor members voted unanimously in favour of a strike but delayed job action after Ready was brought in.

The non-union truckers, represented by the United Truckers Association, also voted to reject the deal.

The drivers are protesting a number of issues, including long wait times and low pay rates at Port Metro Vancouver ports, including Deltaport and Vanterm, and Fraser Surrey Docks.

The union’s collective agreement expired in June 2012. During that time, the union has raised concerns that long line-ups and wait times at the Port of Vancouver are costing truck drivers. Unifor-VCTA is demanding increased rates of pay at the bargaining table and wants the rates standardized and enforced across the sector to put an end to under-cutting.

“We’ve warned the government for years how bad the conditions are,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor’s B.C. area director. “We welcome the involvement of Vince ready, but the feedback I’ve gotten is that our members need to see something far more immediate to improve their economic position.”

The work stoppage has already started to effect operations at the ports with shipments destined for Lower Mainland ports being diverted to other West Coast terminals.

Peter Xotta, vice-president of planning and operations for Port Metro Vancouver, said last week that major retailers have begun to execute their diversion plans to other ports. He did not know how much cargo would be diverted, but speculated it would likely be sent to ports in Seattle or Tacoma.

Port Metro Vancouver said that local trucking moves about 1.3 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of containers per year and that based on the 2011 economic impact study figures, the value of those goods would be approximately $46 billion per year, or $885 million worth of cargo moved by truck weekly.

“The impact of truckers walking off the job is in the order of about $885 million per week,” said Robin Silvester, PMV president and CEO. “Goods are not moving and that is bad news for consumers and businesses.”

While traffic at PMV ports is dwindling during the work stoppage, the port authority is taking steps to enhance safety for working truckers.

Last week, PMV obtained a court injunction to prevent protestors from setting up on port property after reports of threats, intimidation and vandalism. In one case, protestors reportedly threw a rock through the windshield of one truck.

In addition to the injunction, the PMV has started placing security personnel in working trucks to record any events and assist drivers wanting to access terminals. The port authority has also increased its security presence at key locations and access points for traffic heading to or from the port.