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CN should act now to avoid another ‘strike’

Here we go again. It seems wait times at CN's intermodal terminal in Brampton are getting out of hand, and there are rumblings of potential job action by truckers who say that over the past six to eig...




Here we go again. It seems wait times at CN’s intermodal terminal in Brampton are getting out of hand, and there are rumblings of potential job action by truckers who say that over the past six to eight weeks, they’ve sometimes had to wait up to seven hours to get loaded or unloaded at the yard.

In 2003, container haulers at the facility engaged in an unruly illegal strike, which ground container movement to a halt and fostered ill will between CN, carriers and owner/ operators.

Will history repeat itself? The warning signs are there. A new organization, the Canadian Owner Operators Drivers Association (COODA) is banking on it.

The group was formed recently and is actively recruiting members, albeit at a seemingly outrageous cost of $75 per month for company drivers and $100 per month for O/Os.

The group says it plans to take CN to task over excessive wait times and poor working conditions. I’m not sure the group will ever get off the ground. It’s headed not by a trucker, but rather by a security firm owner, albeit an empathetic security firm owner.

He’s already realizing that getting a group of drivers to agree on and/ or unify over anything is next to impossible. (As one trucking executive jokes, you can put two truckers in a room with two prostitutes and the truckers will still end up screwing each other).

It’s a lesson that’s been learned by many previous now-defunct owner/ operator associations in this country. Even OBAC, which has persevered through its early problems thanks to the tireless, seemingly superhuman efforts of its leader, has trouble getting O/Os to pony up about $45 for membership -and that’s for a year.

But even if COODA doesn’t get up and running, CN should heed the warning that there is growing dissension among its driver ranks and take the appropriate action before things get out of hand.

Drivers say there are only two portapotties on-site for drivers to use while waiting for hours at a time. CN says there are actually five, but is that even sufficient? Is it too much to ask for them to build a permanent facility with running water for drivers to use? That would at least make wait time bearable, if not ideal.

Trucking companies are building lavish driver rooms into their terminals because they know that soon, there won’t be anyone willing to put up with the current industry conditions they face on a daily basis.

You could easily make the case that container haulers face the most difficult working conditions of any breed of trucker. Giving them some amenities on the job site where they spend way too much of their day would be a start.

Next, CN needs to find ways to drive inefficiencies out of the system so drivers don’t have to spend hours waiting to be loaded or unloaded. I won’t pretend to have any insight into how they utilize their equipment or prioritize their loading/unloading, but as container volumes climb back to pre-recessionary levels,

now is a good time for some self-examination. Another labour disruption at CN’s Brampton yard can be avoided.

But only if the company heeds the early warning signs and takes steps to quell truckers’ well-justified dissatisfaction before it’s too late.

-James Menzies can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6896 or by e-mail at jmenzies@trucknews.com.You can also follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/JamesMenzies.


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