Quebec forums continue

by Carroll McCormick

MONTREAL, Que. – What does it cost to be an owner/operator and who do you believe when you ask? The unions, which claim to be fighting for the livelihoods, the very existence of downtrodden truckers? Or owner/operator associations, which say “Treat them like the professionals they are,” and, “If you can’t stand the heat, then get the hell out of the kitchen.”

This is the showdown that was played out at the forum on the future of Quebec’s trucking industry, struck after province-wide demonstrations in October, that has held five meetings since Oct. 21.

The Centrale des Syndicats Democratiques presented a brief claiming that for an owner/operator driving 194,065 kilometres a year, the operation costs $143,325 to run, against revenues of $168,857. The yield is a paltry wage of $3.51 an hour, or a pre-tax business income of $13,033.

Who knows how this played with Transports Quebec (which prefers to say that talks are firm, but polite) and the labor representatives who heard the news. But Daniel Brulotte, long-time president of the Association des Proprietaires de Camions Remorques Independent s de Quebec (APCRIQ), didn’t mince words: “I couldn’t believe my eyes. I couldn’t believe the bullshit.”

He immediately set out to prove the union figures wrong, to which the voices of doom did not take kindly. Brulotte says when he disagrees with the union’s figures they point and say, “Oh, you’re God.”

After correcting several math errors in the columns of union figures, he presented an item-by-item rebuttal, using the union’s own methodology (which, he says, happens to be flawed). His bottom line, for the same number of kilometres driven, is $102,703 in operating expenses and average revenues of $200,000, yielding a wage of $24.35 an hour or a salary of $90,404.

Brulotte and the CSD aren’t quibbling over the cost of pencils here, or bologna versus ham at the truckstop breakfast tables. The CSD says that the annual bill for tires, for tractor and trailer, is $16,496. Brulotte, using what he says are actual member reports, puts the payout at $5,367. He pegs the fuel bill $2,520 lower than the CSD, which said its members pay $0.547 a litre. APCRIQ members pay $0.490 a litre, says Brulotte.

But the biggest whopper, according to Brulotte, is the $35,126 hit the CSD claims owner/operators take every year for maintenance, including $1,746 for cleaning. “What are they doing on the weekend? Beating on their trucks with sledgehammers?” asks Brulotte. He says actual APCRIQ member figures put maintenance at just $10,000 annually, and this is not for stripped-down, grease-monkey-in-the-driveway maintenance costs.

The comparisons continue for two-dozen more lines. Sometimes Brulotte agrees with the CSD, sometimes not. But who really cares if the two sides shoot it out over numbers?

Brulotte thinks the unions are fighting for their lives, and that they have told their members they would fix everything – introducing minimum hourly wages and mileage rates, lower fuel prices, the right to unionize and bargain collectively, and find a pension fund. What will their members do, says Brulotte, if the people to whom they pay their dues don’t cough up the goods?

Brulotte acknowledges that some truckers don’t earn the big revenues, some have out-of-control expenses and some carriers pay lousy rates. But his bottom line is that owner/operators are businesspeople, and if they are in dire straits, they may simply not be cut out for the job. He wants those willing to work for low-rates to get out of the business and do his guys a favor. “As far as I am concerned we are not workers. We are professionals. We’re in this mess because people aren’t businessmen and they don’t know their obligations.”

As for the outcome of the forum, at an as-yet unspecified date, the unions want to see legislated protection for owner/operators. Brulotte says this is dangerous and only rewards incompetency. “Any politically correct decision will put off the problem and make it harder for people who know how to make a living in this industry,” he adds. n

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