Who will speak for truck drivers?
Working truck drivers are not well-represented and have few champions. It’s ironic considering the sheer numbers of people involved in the trade. Up until the last census, truck driving was the largest occupation for males in Canada. We’ve lost first place to retail workers, but there are still well over 200,000 of us.
Now this may seem like a large interest group that should attract some notice from politicians, but this is sadly not the case. Legislators (and industry lobbyists) really don’t care what truckers think. Don’t like speed limiters? Too bad, they’re here to stay. Don’t like the Ontario government’s discriminatory protocols licensing Class A drivers over 65? Too bad again–this is now policy with the MTO and no amount of bitching is going to alter that.
While researching the Ontario government’s sorry record on the padlocked 400 series service centres, I contacted the provincial NDP for a statement via Peter Kormos’ office, an upstanding guy himself, but nothing was forthcoming from the kNeeDeePs front office on the issue—imagine that, a party for workers that isn’t interested in workers. The only opposition MPP to run with this story was former conservative house leader Bob Runciman who got some mileage out of it, seeing as how the two derelict Mallorytown service parks are in his riding. To his credit, Runciman called me from his Toronto office one Friday afternoon just as my deadline was descending. But it’s unlikely that you’ll be hearing any more on this issue from this freshly-appointed Harper sycophant to the senate.
So which political party will speak for truckers? Christian Heritage Party? Greens? Marxist-Leninists? I’m afraid the choices aren’t much better federally. Remember the term silent majority? Truck drivers are more like the invisible majority; other than a few squawks you don’t hear much out of them.
If we only had someone with the mellifluous tones of a David Bradley, grand Pooh-Bah of the OTA and CTA, whose lobbyist-invocations always seem to find the ears of provincial transport ministers. But the OTA does impact truck drivers and their working conditions with its consultations and interventions. I.e., trucking CEOs go on a mission to Europe to “investigate” speed limiters. Not so many years later, almost all of Canada is looking through the sights of 105 kph speed-restricted trucking; Industry wants LCVs in Ontario, industry gets LCVs, etc.
So who’s left to speak for us? I don’t think I’ve ever heard Teamsters Canada president Bob Bouvier speak on anything. With all the challenges of dwindling membership, recent attempts to organize casino and McDonald’s workers have failed. And the drive to sign disgruntled Challenger drivers might have already stalled out–haven’t heard much about it.
And don’t expect relief from south of the border. As one old-timer from a Hamilton local once told me, James Hoffa Jr. still has a long way to go to fit into his father’s shoes and probably never come up to the task. Moreover, the IBT has focused on a new constituency now that includes cops, security guards, teachers, armoured truck personnel and Disneyland workers. Teamsters officials just don’t see trucking as a growth area. One website states that only 16% of IBT membership is involved in trucking.
Like buying a Sham-Wow
What about OBAC? Although primarily for owner-operators, it has good people at the helm, including journalist Jim Park. This group certainly has the ability to be a “voice in the wilderness” but paid membership is small (correct me if I’m wrong) and many operators are only lukewarm when it comes to joining a group and paying fees. Initially, it didn’t help that Industry Canada start up funds were stolen by one of the original officers.
The feds were interested in creating a group like this after the blockades and slowdowns of Sept. 2000, when owner operators turned militant as a result of spiking fuel costs. Quebec independents just about choked off the northern part of the province with blockades. The provincial and federal governments grew concerned that no bargaining unit that could be brought to the table. Quebec passed legislation that would severely punish anyone blocking a public road. It’s unlikely that we’ll again see the direct actions and bridge blockades of the last century.
And then there’s Peter Turner of The Truckers’ Voice, who claims great success at going to bat for drivers and lots of paid up members (at $100 a pop). For that money you get a newsletter and two hours free consultation concerning job matters. Turner also claims to be an effective political lobbyist. He sounds like a radical talking to him on the phone and I have no way to verify any of the things he told me. Maybe he is Moses and will lead us out of the desert.
Truck drivers know they are important and that without them the country would grind to a stop. Once in a while someone gets the idea that everyone should park their trucks for a day. Presumably, so the public will see how important this industry is. A particular day is chosen for drivers to lay down their tools, but nothing much ever comes of it. A few O/Os shut down for a day and then complain that there is no solidarity among drivers.
Fiercely independent truckers don’t like being told what to do, or what group to join. Some have contracts that they wouldn’t think of jeopardizing, while others don’t think work stoppage measures would be effective, and others just don’t care. I personally wouldn’t stay home from work unless there was a very good reason to do so.
It’s unlikely you’ll ever get consensus on any one topic among truck drivers. For example, most drivers don’t like speed limiters, but not all of them. Company drivers like myself have always driven governed vehicles, and guys always found a way to circumvent them.
And what about hours of service? Most O/Os want the right to work as many hours as they decide, like doctors. But not everyone thinks we should be able to work around the clock. Some would prefer 12 hours off between shifts and mandatory overtime after 40 hours (inter-provincial carriers don’t have to pay OT because they fall under federal jurisdiction).
But I have to admit that the politicians might be right in ignoring truckers, bunch of sheep as Julio, pirate CB operator in Toronto, used to remind us. Personally, I’m voting Rhino next election.
Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.
With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude. All posts by Harry Rudolfs