Protests banned

by Julia Kuzeljevich

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Owner/operators working at the Port of Vancouver may have lost their ability to shut down or picket the facility, meaning a possible end to some of the labor strife that has plagued the site in recent months.

A group of carriers has established a process to secure a court injunction that would effectively prevent any picketing or harassment. And such an injunction could be signed within hours.

In the first week of February, several owner/operators were threatening to shut down the port because they said Aheer Transportation had violated its wage agreement. The truckers wanted the company’s license to be suspended for a week since Aheer had allegedly not been paying its drivers an hourly wage while they operated on port property.

Hourly wages became a fact of life after a four-week shutdown last August. Beginning Oct. 1, 1999, truckers began seeing pay of $46 per hour.

Previously, truckers had been paid a flat rate to move containers to and from the port, but found that growing congestion was leading to major delays. And those delays were squeezing their potential income.

The governing port authority has since established a carrier licensing system that requires an agreement for hourly wages. Carriers that have the licence revoked have to agree to third-party audits and random spotchecks to be re-instated.

“The carriers were very much resolved to deal with (any possible) strife right away,” says Paul Landry, president of the British Columbia Trucking Association. “My understanding is that there were injunctions and layoffs threatened.”

“Hopefully this (the injunction order) will deter them. We’ll stop them from breaking the law,” says Peter Gall, a lawyer retained by several carriers to prevent job action at the port.

Gall adds that any owner/operators who threaten labor strife will be leaving themselves open for lawsuits.

“We’ve got an order that if there are any problems, we’ve got three hours notice for an injunction application,” he says. “I’d expect it would take a couple of hours after that to get it all wrapped up, so let’s says six hours from start to finish, to get the injunction through.”

Gall says he officially represents six trucking companies but says that many more are supportive of the injunction.

“My clients are the ones who want to work at the port,” he says.

Meanwhile, the port authority is also working to update its hastily introduced licensing system, with changes to be effective by the beginning of May.

“It will be a better, more comprehensive document that will take into account the pitfalls as well as the positive learning experiences we have been through over the last while.”

Following months of disputes, the prospect of a better, more permanent, licensing system comes as a relief to many operators.

Teamster Stan Hennessey hopes the new licensing agreement will address those companies that are not observing the wage agreement.

“Things are starting to progress in the right directions,” says Hennessey. “Things are moving forward.”

Teamsters played a key role during the 1999 protests.

Morris adds that the port also plans to test a new global positioning system in April, to help with dispatching procedures.

“We also have funding to go ahead with the design of a live video cam, the ‘port cam via the Internet’.”

Fortunately, port operations are finally going well, she adds. “Our staggered scheduling system, as well as our Saturday service, are working quite well. Things are moving very smoothly.” n

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