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DriveTest Strike Tests Ontario Trucking Industry’s Patience

TORONTO, Ont. - As a strike by DriveTest employees -including driver examiners -entered its second month, the toll on the trucking industry has continued to mount. Instructors at many truck training f...


ON STRIKE: DriveTest staff bring attention to their cause during a demonstration in downtown Toronto Sept. 17.
ON STRIKE: DriveTest staff bring attention to their cause during a demonstration in downtown Toronto Sept. 17.

TORONTO, Ont. –As a strike by DriveTest employees -including driver examiners -entered its second month, the toll on the trucking industry has continued to mount. Instructors at many truck training facilities have been laid off, and new commercial drivers -some with job offers in-hand -have remained out of work as they were unable to take their road test and upgrade to an A/Z licence.

The union representing striking DriveTest employees, USW Local 9511, appeared no closer to an agreement with management when this issue of Truck News went to press and had taken their message to the streets.

Striking workers were joined by representatives from about 15 commercial training centres during a demonstration at Queen’s Park Sept. 17 and our WebTV show Transportation Matters was there.

Jim Young, president of USW Local 9511, said “We want to demonstrate to the employer that we are unified, not just with employees but also people directly involved…we want a fair and just collective agreement.”

He said the union has concerns with job security, the recognition of seniority, management performing work functions, and public and employee health and safety. Also on-hand was Jay Poothappillai of Jay’s Truck Training School.

He was there to voice his displeasure with the Ontario government, which has sat idly by as the strike dragged on.

“We can’t train anymore,” he told Transportation Matters. “It’s ridiculous. It’s a big shame for the government.”

You can see the Sept. 24 episode of Transportation Matters at Trucknews.com for coverage. Meanwhile, professional drivers and driver instructors have been caught in the crossfire of this union/management struggle.

Kim Richardson, president of KRTS Transportation Specialists, told Truck News he’s had to lay off about 40% of his truck training division staff.

KRTS’s sales dipped to their lowest levels in the company’s 20-year history, and “for the first time in the history of our business, we don’t have any control over it,” he said.

Richardson said KRTS has suspended truck training activities, since students will be unable to take their tests and obtain an A/Z licence at the conclusion of training.

Some inscrutable schools, on the other hand, have found an opportunity to exploit the situation and profit from it, he blasted.

According to Richardson, some driver training schools are telling prospective new customers that they have signing authority and can issue A/Z licences themselves upon completion of training -which Richardson said is an “outright lie.” Prospective new truck drivers should be aware of this, he warned.

“Some competitors are saying ‘we have the authority to do the test here,’ and they’re telling all kinds of stories just to get the revenue, and people are buying it -we’re losing clients,” said Richardson, of what he referred to as a growing ‘red light district’ of truck driver training schools.

Many professional drivers have also found themselves on the sidelines as the strike drags on. Garry Harris told Truck News he let his A/Z licence lapse when business was slow, with the expectation he could renew it when work became available.

When his carrier called and said they had work for him, he made an appointment with DriveTest to upgrade back to an A/Z. But just days before his appointment, the strike commenced.

“Here I am, ready to work, capable of working and my hands are tied,” he said, adding the bills are piling up and “it’s starting to get to the critical stage.”

Harris feels the government should be doing more to bring an end to the dispute and says the province is risking further economic hardship by keeping people out of work as the economy begins to show some signs of life.

Richardson noted that the province has the ability to process all the paperwork and suggested it allow qualified trainers to conduct road tests while the strike continues.

“Why not give them temporary signing authority?” he asked.

USW Local 9511 also has pitched a compromise to get people moving. The union said it would conduct road tests directly for the MTO on a non-profit basis, but that suggestion was shot down by the province, he said, which is seemingly unwilling to wade into the labour dispute.

The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) has chimed in, urging both sides of the dispute to get back to the table and hammer out a deal.

“Our members are encouraging the two parties to get back to bargaining. This thing can’t be solved if they aren’t talking,” OTA president David Bradley said in a release.

He too warned that Ontario may suffer economic damage if qualified workers are prevented from joining the workforce.

“Some of these people have recently been displaced from other industries due to the tough economic times, are on EI and are trying for a fresh start in trucking. When the economy comes on stream, which we are all hoping it is, there will be a need for these people to be able to step in and do a job. They can’t even begin to get the experience they need if they are unable to get their licences because of the strike.”

The OTA says about 100 Class A drivers’ tests are conducted each day in Ontario, which raises questions about how quickly the backlog can be alleviated once business resumes at DriveTest.

Richardson pointed out companies such as his will also have to endure the cost of retraining students who may have forgotten some of what they learned.

“We have an obligation to make sure they’re ready not only to pass the road test, but also to be ready for the industry,” he said. “It’s a substantial investment for KRTS to ensure they’re trained to the standards (industry) is used to.”

For drivers already holding an A/Z licence, the MTO has promised an extension to any expiration dates. Still, not all drivers are confident other jurisdictions will follow suit.

Bill Insell, a professional driver with an expired A/Z told Truck News that he’s nervous to cross the border and some carriers have told the OTA they’re avoiding sending drivers with expired licences to the US in fear of delays at the border.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has assured the OTA that all FAST-approved drivers will be allowed to cross with expired licences up until Dec. 31.

Non-FAST drivers are advised to carry documentation with them from the MTO which explains the situation. You can find details on the MTO’s Web site at www.mto.gov.on.ca .

To weigh in on the DriveTest strike, you can read James Menzies’ blog dated Sept. 8 at TruckNews.com and post your comments.

-As this issue of Truck News was going to press, there were rumblings of progress coming from talks between management and the union. Visit Trucknews.comfor updates as the strike progresses or follow James Menzies on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jamesmenzies.

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‘Here I am, ready to work, capable of working and my hands are tied.’

Garry Harris


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