VANCOUVER, B.C. – On the same day a mediator was appointed to settle a number of long-held outstanding grievances between truck drivers and their employers, a tentative deal was reached to end the labour unrest at Port Metro Vancouver.
Members of Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association (VCTA) were in the position to legally begin striking yesterday. VCTA members had been working without a contract since the previous one expired in June 2012. Owner/operators belonging to the non-unionized United Truckers Association (UTA) began protesting on February 26. Both organizations wanted too see changes made to prevent price undercutting, and to improve operations at the port so that wait-times could be shortened. They also had concerns about fees and licensing practices.
After mediator Vince Ready was appointed by federal transport minister Lisa Raitt, he sat down with VCTA representatives to hammer out a deal. Talks were successful, and the union agreed to postpone the strike (which was also supposed to begin yesterday) and present the settlement to its members. They will vote on whether to accept it or not on Saturday March 8.
The UTA has also set a vote on the deal for Saturday. Manny Dosange, a spokesperson for the UTA told Reuters that “from the non-union side, the pickets and protests will stay up until we come to some kind of conclusion,” adding that if UTA members vote in favour of the settlement, the drivers could return to work on Monday.
“It’s unfortunate that the government waited until the eleventh hour to get the ball rolling, but the progress made [yesterday] was important,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor’s national president. “The work done by container truck drivers is vital to the port’s operation, and that benefits the local community and the province’s economy.”
Along with assisting in the negotiating process, Ready was given the mandate to “conduct a detailed review of the Port Metro Vancouver trucking industry and will provide recommendations to the provincial and federal governments by May 30, 2014,” and that task will continue, even after the weekend’s votes.
“This is one small step towards justice for container truck drivers,” said Paul Johal, president of Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association (VCTA). “Truckers will not be mollified with lip service to this review. We are watching developments closely.”
Even though the labour tensions have eased now that a deal has been reached, there are still people affected by the work stoppages and disruptions at the port. Today, the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association Inc. posted a letter to terminal operators at the port, asking for relief from incurred storage fees.
Signed by executive director Ruth Snowden, the letter explained, “Both local British Columbia businesses and the important transload operations that have developed around the PMV are impacted negatively by the driver action at the port. Although the terminals at Deltaport and Vanterm are ‘open for business’, it is obvious from the terminals own webcams and daily statistics that as a result of either sympathy or intimidation, very few truckers have been able or willing to work at the port. While the federal mediator has been appointed today and one hopes that drivers return to work, it will be a few days until activity returns to full volume at the port
“We are writing to you today to urge you to work with your steamship line customers and mitigate storage charges during this period.
“The causes of the current work stoppage are complex, historic and cross company and sector boundaries. That said, certainly part of the responsibility lies with the terminals’ inability to reduce driver wait times at the gates. When the port is fluid again and local importers and businesses are asked to help with long-term solutions, the terminal’s mitigation of today’s storage will go a long way towards encouraging change by others.”