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Court backing prevents further port strikes

VANCOUVER, B.C. - With backing from the Federal Court of Canada it was business as usual this summer for the Vancouver Port Authority (VPA), as it continues to rebuild its image from the previous summ...


VANCOUVER, B.C. – With backing from the Federal Court of Canada it was business as usual this summer for the Vancouver Port Authority (VPA), as it continues to rebuild its image from the previous summer’s labour dispute.

The federal court sided with the West Coast ports in July on the validity of the federal Cabinet ordering an end to last summer’s container trucking dispute and essentially confirmed the VPA’s authority to implement a licensing system.

B.C.-based carriers Pro West Transport and Team Transport Services applied for a judicial review of the Cabinet order and the VPA’s ability to structure a licensing system that required carriers to agree to set rates for drivers.

The court held that it was permissible for the VPA to require trucking companies to sign on to mediator Vince Ready’s Memorandum of Agreement, which established rates paid to container truck drivers in the Lower Mainland.

In his judgment, Justice Teitelbaum described how the licensing system and Memorandum of Agreement established during the 90-day period covered by the Order-in-Council continue to be valid even now that the order has expired.

“Such ongoing impact of section 47 is not only within the jurisdiction of the section, but, in my view, expected by it,” wrote Teitelbaum.

The court’s decision means the VPA can continue its licensing system established this spring and reinforces the arbitration board’s jurisdiction to settle disputes under the Memorandum of Agreement, including rate-cutting allegations.

The Order-in-Council, under section 47 of the Canada Transportation Act, essentially facilitated an end to last summer’s two-month container trucking dispute, which saw a backlog of containers accumulating at the port with thousands of truckers on strike.

After re-issuing several Orders-in-Council between July 2005 and January 2006, the federal government made a move in April to establish permanent stability at the ports. Using much of what was outlined in the Memorandum of Agreement, amendments were proposed to the Port Authorities Operations Regulations in April 2006. Transport Canada is currently assessing representations made during the 30-day response period following the publishing of the proposed regulation amendments.

If enacted, the regulations would place a legal obligation on the Vancouver and Fraser River Port Authorities to ensure a licensing system is in place to control truck access to the ports and a minimum set of conditions are met in order for a licence to be issued. The regulations would also require licencees to adhere to any applicable legislation in respect of rates of remuneration.

“The anticipated long-term effects of the regulations are to support the measures currently being implemented by the ports in order to reduce terminal congestion and wait times, improve the efficiency of port operations and increase the number of daily trips made by truckers,” noted Anne-Marie Bouchard, senior communications advisor with Transport Canada.

The court ruling was welcome news for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 2006, which represents the majority of truck drivers moving containers in and out of the port.

“The members are happy, it goes to prove they were right and their efforts of last summer were worthwhile,” Stu Shields, national representative with CAW Local 2006, told Truck West. “The companies had free reign over the truckers for too long.”

The Local 2006 was chartered last August and was born out of the Vancouver Container Truckers Association. The union represents about 600 container haulers, with about 400 members awaiting certification from the labour board.

With the current agreement in place union workers are not envisioning another work stoppage like the summer of 2005 and are eager to help repair the image of the Vancouver port system.

“Vancouver wants to repair that reputation of being an unstable port,” said Shields. “We’re working hard on the beginnings of it, to improve a reputation like the one developed is just built over time.”

“We plan to operate in the most upfront way possible and develop a good relationship with all the stakeholders involved,” he added. “Hopefully the less reputable companies will disappear and we’ll have a port with a good reputation.”

Making their opinion known, a number of the union workers staged a rolling protest in April just days prior to the proposed amendments to the port regulations being made public.

“The rolling protest was to say we’re not going away and if you do anything to weaken the truckers’ position we have a union,” explained Shields. “When they break the rules we get to knock on the door and say excuse me we have an agreement; because in the absence of the agreement the companies cut the rates down to the point where a situation like last summer will occur.”

Despite container traffic coming to a standstill for 47 days in the Vancouver ports last summer, container traffic attained a new record of 1.77 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) in one calendar year.

Increased trade opportunities from Asian economies place the Canadian port in a positive position to build on those record setting numbers.

“Growing demand provides significant opportunities to strengthen the Canadian economy and employment, yet competing ports in the US are expanding at a fast pace,” stated Captain Gordon Houston, president and CEO of the VPA. “We must maintain our competitive position through improvements and capitalize on these opportunities, otherwise economic benefits will be lost.”

Overall, the Federal Court of Canada decision to uphold the validity of the Memorandum of Agreement should help the VPA continue to distance itself from the labour dispute and allow the ports to follow through with expansion plans.

“The court’s decision will complement the Strategic Trucking Initiative, which is designed to address the issues underlying last summer’s trucking dispute,” stated Chris Badger, the VPA vice-president of customer development and operations.

Under this initiative, the port has extended hours of operation at container terminal truck gates by 40% and is also introducing new initiatives for container trucks serving the port; including reservation system and truck safety improvements, as well as emission reduction programs.


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