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More Port Pains?

VANCOUVER, B. C. - Truckers who haul freight to Port Metro Vancouver have announced that the union will hold a strike vote in an effort to win new contracts, according to the Vancouver Container Truck...

VANCOUVER, B. C. –Truckers who haul freight to Port Metro Vancouver have announced that the union will hold a strike vote in an effort to win new contracts, according to the Vancouver Container Trucking Association- Canadian Auto Workers (VCTACAW) Local 2006.

More than 300 truck driver members of VCTA-CAW Local 2006, attended a recent union meeting in Surrey to discuss the lack of progress in reaching a new contract, according to the union, which also reports that the previous collective agreements expired on Dec. 31, 2008.

“This kind of support shows that our members understand that the only time the governments and port authorities listen, is when there is a serious threat to the operations at the port,” said VCTA-CAW Local 2006 president Paul Johal. “We need to see a moratorium on company-owned trucks entering the ports, and the agreed-upon rates paid by all the companies,” added Johal, whose union represents more than 750 truckers hauling freight to and from the port.

The union states that it has discussed its concerns with representatives of the Ministry of Transportation, which investigates companies that do not pay agreed-upon rates, according to Paul Uppal, VCTA-CAW Local 2006 business agent.

“There needs to be more investigation and stiffer penalties, to those who undercut the system,” he added. “Currently when a company is caught undercutting, the penalty is to pay back what is owed to the drivers for the three months that is audited. If a company has been undercutting for a year or more, it is just the cost of doing business. We need penalties that include the suspension of port access. Of the 40 companies that have been audited, 23 have not been paying the proper rates, (yet) none have had their port licences suspended.”

Members have complained about undercutting, wait times, and lack of work available as the result of the port issuing too many licences, according to Hemi Mitic, assistant to the CAW national president. “The vote speaks loud and clear. Our members are not prepared to stand by and watch their livelihood destroyed without a fight. No one wants to see a strike by owner/operators at the port, but these outstanding issues have to be resolved before any collective agreements are signed.”

The union states that it will be working to find a solution to the licensing issue and enforcement problems. Failing that, a strike vote will be held and a strike deadline established before the end of January.

The B. C. Trucking Association doesn’t take a position on labour disputes, but president and CEO Paul Landry did indicate that he is not in favour of any labour disruption at the port. He is also opposed to any negative actions that may be taken against other owner/operators that aren’t involved in the dispute. “We believe everybody has the right to work,” he said.

Considering the current economic uncertainty, Landry is also concerned about the negative impact the labour dispute could have on the port’s reputation.

“We don’t need the port’s reputation harmed in terms of our customers,” he said. “This is not a good time to send a message that Port Metro Vancouver is unstable.”

Port Metro Vancouver’s vice-president of business development, Peter Xotta, says the port has already responded to the union’s threat of labour actions, earlier in December when the CAW held a rally.

“We said at that time that we felt that any disruption to the port’s business is something that we cannot afford,” Xotta said.

“We urge the parties to this discussion to find a way to resolve or move forward in their deliberations.We have had a fairly stable trucking system at the port since we instituted the licensing system in 2005.”

Xotta added that discussions are “ongoing” between the employer group and the union representing the owner/operators.

“So from our perspective, we’re hopeful that those discussions carry on and they reach a successful outcome.”

Port Metro Vancouver is not under the impression that there will be an imminent disruption caused by the union. “At least that’s the message that we are getting,” added Xotta. “We’re watching it closely.”

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