Protests flare up again as truckers walk away from surcharge talks

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As Motortruck was going to press, independent truckers, angry over high fuel costs, blockaded a Whitby, Ont. food terminal and several Whitby-area gravel pits, and were planning to protest further at Queen’s Park. The National Truckers Association had voted to start strike action, and the Greater Ottawa Truckers Association and Northern Ontario Truckers Association were also onside.

Truckers are frustrated that they have been unable to achieve a 24 per cent fuel surcharge, based on average fuel prices that were charged in 1998 before they hit a 10-year low in 1999. A bid by the Ontario government to curb any protest action stalled when the owner-operators rejected a peace pact from Queen’s Park. Al Palladini, the Minister of Economic Development and Trade, and Ontario Transportation Minister David Turnbull had brokered a plan that would have seen shippers and major carriers compensate independent operators anywhere from seven cents to 22 cents a mile, depending on diesel costs at the time the contract was signed. The rebates come from the $1.05 per mile charge that is factored into shipping contracts. NTA president Bill Wellman said the deal was weighted in favor of the carriers and that he could not sell it to his association’s members. In the midst of the protests, Wellman and NTA board member Brian Jones quit the organization as members threatened action geared to disrupt the Ontario economy. Wellman and Jones are now back on board. Meanwhile, Palladini warned that if independent operators could not agree to come back to the bargaining table, he would, if forced, intervene and regulate the trucking industry.

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