STEINBACH, Man. - For James and Faith Bauman, the decision to move to Winnipeg seems to have left them out in the cold.While Faith was born Canadian, her husband is from south of the 49th, and that do...
BAD NEWS: American trucker James Bauman ponders a letter from the Teamsters that aims to keep him off Canadian highways.(Photo by John Curran)
STEINBACH, Man. – For James and Faith Bauman, the decision to move to Winnipeg seems to have left them out in the cold.
While Faith was born Canadian, her husband is from south of the 49th, and that doesn’t sit well with Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) or Teamsters Local 979.
Although he has been trucking for nearly five accident-free years out of Nebraska, HRDC is unwilling to grant Bauman ‘validation’. This special status given to some immigrants that would allow Bauman to resume working as a trucker here in Canada while he goes through the process of applying to become a citizen.
When the Baumans contacted HRDC, James was told he would be granted validation if he could demonstrate he had lined-up a perspective employer willing to hire him who was unable to find a Canadian to fill the job.
Rick Wray is the owner/operator of Wray Ventures, a four-truck operation that splits its iron between two separate fleets. Wray has placed several ads in local papers looking for drivers and received no response from Canadians.
In November, Wray made James an offer and says he is still willing to pay him 30 cents/mile to haul cross-border freight.
“Looking at his track record, he’s got exactly what I’m looking for in a driver,” says Wray. “He has got a clean abstract, almost five years’ worth of experience and knows about trucking in the U.S.”
So, given the fact the current shortage of qualified drivers is estimated at anywhere from 25,000 to 38,000, the Baumans thought the application would be a slam-dunk.
HRDC asked James to obtain letters from a number of organizations to prove there was a need for truck drivers. In addition to groups like the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC) and the Manitoba Trucking Association – both of which supported his application – the local Teamster office was also asked whether the American should be allowed to drive.
The answer was simple according to Rick Ashdown, who heads up Local 979: no.
“I don’t feel embarrassed at all by (saying hire) Canadians first,” he says. “HRDC called me and asked … would we sign a paper that says we agree to a foreign worker coming in and working in the transportation industry. Quite frankly, I don’t agree to that and neither does my membership.”
The labor union insists that fleets would easily find all of the drivers they need if they would raise their pay rates to acceptable levels.
“I have unemployed members right now that are certainly qualified to drive,” adds the union leader. “In many cases, the working conditions or reimbursement are not sufficient to attract them. That doesn’t mean there are no Canadians looking for work … it means the rate of pay is not sufficient to secure them.”
As far as Wray is concerned, the Teamster’s have no right to tell him what he should pay his drivers.
“I have absolutely no interest in hiring Teamster drivers,” he blasts. “My company isn’t unionized, so this makes absolutely no sense to me.”
And he’s not the only one scratching his head.
Linda Gauthier, the CTHRC director of programs, says the Baumans’ situation has really exposed a much larger question: Why did HRDC ask the Teamsters for their opinion in the first place?
“This is not a union job, it’s a small company and there is a genuine lack of qualified drivers,” says Gauthier. “This is the kind of person who should be able to help fill that need.”
Gauthier even discussed the issue with one of the CTHRC’s directors, who also happens to be the national freight director for the Teamsters union. While the board member agreed that in James Bauman’s case, given his marriage and long-term relationship with Faith, an exception could possibly be made but it was not within his power to influence that decision.
“Apparently each local union is independent from one another,” Gauthier explains. “Even though they all operate under the same name,” they all make their own policy decisions.
Suzanne Potvin, who heads HRDC’s foreign workers’ initiatives, says the national policy requires local offices to seek employment market information from trade unions they deem relevant.
“(But) it’s as though they’re placing more weight behind the union opinion than that of the other industry stakeholders,” Gauthier complains.
This frustration is only compounded considering most industry experts estimate that the union only represents the drivers of less than 10 per cent of Manitoba’s fleets.
“We look at the entire labor market in the given area,” argues Potvin. “It’s not that the Teamsters’ opinion is more important … in the case of trucking, I think it would be a disservice to the industry to grant validation to foreign workers to solve the short-term need for drivers.”
Instead, she echoes the complaints of the Teamsters, explaining that HRDC’s Unemployment Insurance rolls indicate there are a significant number of out-of-work truckers in the Steinbach area.
“If we can’t find a Canadian willing to do a job, we need to look at improving that job,” says Potvin. “It doesn’t mean we need to bring in foreign workers to do the work.”
“We’re caught in the middle of this,” complains Faith Bauman. “HRDC and the Teamsters are holding our lives in their hands and the only one that should be able to do that is the man upstairs.”
Ironically, as Truck News was going to press, Ashdown spent several hours meeting with the Baumans. He then changed his submission.
“I spoke to national (HRDC) headquarters and they said the Teamsters now think it would be inappropriate for the union’s opinion to stand in Mr. Bauman’s way given his situation,” says Alice Egert who manages the Steinbach HRDC office. But, she adds, the Teamsters are not willing to change their local labor market assessment.
“We look at a number of factors from a policy point of view when considering foreign workers,” says Potvin, “not the individual circumstances involved in each situation.”
She insists the fact the Teamsters have decided to make an exception in James Bauman’s case likely won’t carry a lot of weight in her opinion.
“Foreign workers looking to be truck drivers aren’t generally granted validation,” says Potvin. n