Port plan put off

by Julia Kuzeljevich

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Container drivers who are awaiting a permanent licensing system for those who truck through the Port of Vancouver may have to wait until this fall to see a new system put in place, even though it had been promised by early spring.

The Vancouver Port Authority says simply that the licensing system is part of a larger trucking initiative, and that officials need more time to consult with the industry.

“In March they realized that all of this would not be ready by May 1,” says Jamie Lamb of the Vancouver Port Authority.

“The licensing is part of a larger trucking initiative that involves massive coordination with truck scheduling, and reservations. It won’t all fall into place in one great bang.

“We’re not just looking at the licensing procedure. There’s also the scheduling system. The next phase we’re looking at is compulsory scheduling for import containers that is just starting to get phased in,” he says.

“Our closed-circuit TV system that’s planned is behind and may be pushed to late June or the first week of July. We’re going to be looking at an Internet site and polling for feedback.”

With no permanent licensing system in place, there are worries that those companies or independent contractors who have not respected a port-wide agreement on wages will undercut those who have agreed to pay the minimum wage.

In April, industrial arbitrator Brian Foley bound Cansea Transport to the $46-an-hour rate that was agreed to last August after a month-long walkout by truckers. In February, the Teamsters Union filed a grievance after the fleet told its owner/operators they would be paid an hourly rate while on port property and a flat fee for the rest of their trip.

The hourly wages were designed to address the financial burden faced by owner/operators who had to deal with lengthy waiting times at the port.

Although the Teamsters were content with the wage ruling, the unresolved licensing issue could potentially open up another can of worms in the dispute over fair payments while on port property.

Garnet Zimmerman, president of Teamsters Union Local 31, says that the licensing issue is separate from the new technologies the Port Authority wants to introduce. “The cameras, etc. are a separate issue. The license agreement is a fair wage act. It’s not something exorbitant. We have minimum wages (for every industry) and yet we have people who work for less than minimum wage by the time they pay all their expenses.”

Zimmerman wonders whether the Port simply set the earlier completion date for the licenses to avoid another shutdown.

“Originally the Port said the new licensing system would be in place by May 1, then they pushed that back to April 15. Drivers had been talking about withdrawing their services again,” says Zimmerman.

“They want to know the reason for the delay, but at the same time, if this delay ensures that the licence will be fairly put into place, I think then they might be prepared to look at it,” he says.

But Zimmerman says that he doesn’t think the Port can feasibly delay the licensing as late as the fall. “I don’t think they have that much time,” he says. “They’re eroding the system themselves by allowing renegade companies to undercut the rates and destabilize the industry.”

Until a permanent licensing system can be put into place, says Zimmerman, some companies or owner/operators will simply not honor the wage agreement.

“The companies that are trying to play fair are having their customers eroded by the bottom feeders. If they continue with it, the drivers will take matters into their own hands,” says Zimmerman.

Truckers, he says, are not blameless in the matter. “Owner/operators can sometimes be their own worst enemy when they undercut their competitors,” he says.

Zimmerman says there have been 834 trucking company bankruptcies in the province this year, most of those essentially owner/operators.

“These bankruptcies have an effect on the entire economy, and no one is looking at it. There are trucks sitting in lots and getting sold 10, 12 times over,” he says.

In the meantime, Teamsters continue discussions with the Port. And its representatives are stressing that they can’t wait much longer for solutions.

The solutions they had been promised. n

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