WINDSOR, Ont. – About 140 dump truck drivers – both owner/operators and those working for small companies – seem resistant to an organizing drive by the local Teamsters union.
The drivers have started hauling the 3.9 million cubic metres of earth for excavation of the mostly below-grade, six-lane, $1.4-billion Windsor-Essex Parkway construction project.
The 11-km highway, the largest such infrastructure project taking place in Ontario, got underway late last year and is expected to be completed by 2014. The road is planned to link Hwy. 401 with a new bridge to Detroit and US freeways. The bridge still has not been approved by the state of Michigan as some legislators questions the financial implications for taxpayers should the bridge not make money.
Teamsters business agent Rick Parent started handing out cards to a few dozen drivers in early May following a brief work stoppage by the drivers, who were upset with the $63/hour they were being paid.
The drivers are under contract to Windsor’s Amico Infrastructure, which has the excavation job as part of a consortium of companies, under the umbrella of Parkway Infrastructure Constructors, an international consortium building the highway. “It’s not going well,” Parent said of the drive, though he’s not all that surprised.
“They’re owner/operators and I think it’s got to do with dues and stuff like that,” he said.
During the work stoppage, Amico president Domenic Amicone personally went to the site and spoke with drivers.
Negotiations a couple of days later saw the hourly rate bumped to $65. Amicone says the rate will remain in place until the end of the year.
Parent says he figures the drivers want to continue negotiating with Amico, and not take the union up on its offer, at least for the time being.
“They want to go through the process with Amico right now and see if they can negotiate a collective agreement or a contract with them that gives them what they want,” he said.
The $65 tri-axle rate is quite low for Ontario, with the rate being as high as $80- or $100-per-hour elsewhere in the province. George Rumble of the Toronto-based Associated Earth Movers of Ontario said he was “surprised” it was so low.
“You’re probably not even covering your expenses,” he said.
Drivers have complained of frequent breakdowns and tire and axle replacements due to the soft clay earth on site. Most of the fill is being redistributed along the project but some will likely be moved to various locations including a few kilometres east of the project and as far as 20 kms away to cap a former landfill site, still pending negotiation.
Rumble said the money paid is probably the “minimum” they’re making.
“If you ever took a look at the hours that these guys put in behind the scenes after the day’s work is done – they have to maintain the trucks, they have to look after them,” he said. “If you ever gathered all their hours and expected to be paid for them they wouldn’t…be getting the minimum wage.”
The rate must cover diesel – which started to go up in price as the work began – maintenance, and insurance. The greater the hauling distance is, the more costly it is for drivers.
Amicone said the Windsor rates are lower than elsewhere because of local economic conditions.
He said the $63 rate “has been the indicative rate (and) is even higher than it’s been for the last couple of years here.”
Parent’s union has not organized owner/operators locally but does have agreements with Windsor contractors such as Coco Paving Inc., Danruss and Spurr Contractors Inc.
He said drivers pay monthly union dues three times the hourly wage rate, which might be $25.
Should the union eventually organize the Parkway truck drivers, Parent said a different formula would be worked out but the same amount in dues would be paid.