REGINA, Sask. - It can't be easy being an immigrant driver. First there's the language difficulty and then there's the challenge of settling into a new society, a situation which can be compounded if ...
REGINA, Sask. –It can’t be easy being an immigrant driver. First there’s the language difficulty and then there’s the challenge of settling into a new society, a situation which can be compounded if the foreign driver is joined by other family members when moving to Canada. The drivers also have to orient themselves with a new employer and adapt to North American driving standards.
As if that isn’t enough, imagine coming back from a long trip and finding that the company that had initially sponsored you into the country had gone out of business.
That’s what happened to Sergiy Filippov, a Ukrainian immigrant who’s been employed for two years in Saskatchewan, most recently by the now bankrupt SynLogistics of Regina.
Two weeks before the bankruptcy announcement in early November, the company had been promoting itself to all its employees as being financially secure, and that it had planned to become “the biggest logistics company in North America,” according to Filippov. He had just returned from a trip to the US when he was told the bad news.
“Nobody expected this,” he says. “I came back and found that the company doesn’t exist anymore.”
Thanks to the quick thinking and influential efforts of the former president of the Saskatchewan Trucking Association, Denis Prud’homme, with help from the STA itself, the disruption to Filippov’s employment was brief. Within a matter of two weeks, the 60-70 displaced drivers are now all employed with four well-established trucking companies: Yanke Group; Bison Transport;Westcan; and Siemens Transportation Group (Kindersley Transport). In Filippov’s case, he’s now working for Bison Transport, and so far he’s impressed.
“It’s a pretty reliable company, and really well-organized,” says Filippov. “Everything is so well prepared, and everybody knows what to do.”
According to the STA, SynLogistics of Regina voluntarily went into formal bankruptcy proceedings, leaving office staff and drivers without jobs or paycheques as of Wednesday, Nov. 5. The STA also noted that Schneider’s Trucking purchased Prud’homme Trucks in September 2007. New owner Don Schneider formally merged the dry van company with his flatdeck operation last spring, with a name change to SynLogistics. Contrary to Saskatchewan media reports, Prud’homme did not have a business stake in SynLogistics, but he did prove to have a personal interest in the livelihood of his former employees.
Now that they’re back on the job, Filippov and the other Ukrainian and British drivers -approximately 10 foreign employees -must contend with retrieving the money that is owed to them -in some cases two to three weeks’ pay.
The owner/operators are owed even more, according to Prud’homme, who assisted many of the independent truck drivers who had formerly worked for his company -but not all of them.
“I didn’t know the ones from the other companies,” he says. “I didn’t know how to access them. Nobody called me because I would have helped them get placed, but there were some of them that were owed (money),” adds Prud’homme, who has a copy of the defunct carrier’s creditors list since he is a secured creditor as a landlord of a facility rented by SynLogistics.
“Some of those (owner/operators) were owed so much money that I’m sure they will be out of business. Inevitably, when a bankruptcy occurs there’s usually a lot more money owing than coming in, or inequity anyway. The unsecured creditors are usually the guys that are left hanging high and dry.”
However, given the information that he had obtained, Prud’- homme organized a makeshift job fair out of his own facility.
Prud’homme had most of the displaced drivers back on the job with four other reputable companies, which he believes will offer the drivers a better future.
“In the long run, everybody’s better off,” he says. “They will be with stable companies with good benefits.”
As the former president of the STA, Prud’homme was well aware of the driver shortage in Saskatchewan, and he knew which of the larger carrier members were seeking drivers, and which were already involved in the immigrant driver program. He also took it upon himself to coordinate the transfer of work permits for the employees working under the Saskatchewan Immigrant Employee Program, from one sponsor company to the next.
“I worked with the federal, but the provincial (government) really pushed the federal to make it happen quickly and it did,” says Prud’homme.
Prud’homme has no hard feelings towards SynLogistics, even though the bankrupt company apparently hadn’t offered any resources of its own to get the displaced workers back on the job.
He was upset, however, when his name was published by the Regina Leader-Post as one of the owners of SynLogistics, despite having sold his company well over a year ago.
“I was totally insulted. I had nothing to do with this. I had no share of this company or anything like that. Right after they print the negative information about the workers and stuff, then they throw my name right in there. I thought ‘This just isn’t fair’.”
Prud’homme not only helped the displaced foreign workers, in some cases he lent them money until they were able to get back on their feet.
“If I was in a foreign country working, I’d certainly appreciate any help I could get. These people are very, very loyal to their commitments. I have no doubt that I will get paid back.” •
‘In the long run, everybody’s better off. They will be with stable companies with good benefits.’