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Quebec’s O/O service vacuum

MONTREAL, Que. - Quebec owner/operators hoping to see their interests addressed ahead of those of the National Assembly can pretty much forget it these days.The landscape has changed quite a bit over ...

MONTREAL, Que. – Quebec owner/operators hoping to see their interests addressed ahead of those of the National Assembly can pretty much forget it these days.

The landscape has changed quite a bit over the past year and even those seeking group rates, insurance breaks or professional advice have largely been left out in the cold.

Since the Canadian Cooperative of Independent Truck Owner-Operators (Coop) merged with the Syndicat des Metallos (FTQ) and the Association des proprietaires de camions remorques independants du Quebec (APCRIQ) closed shop in February 2001, O/Os have very few choices left. They can go it alone, as many here do.

Or they can join one of three unions: the Syndicat des Routiers Autonomes du Quebec (SRAQ), part of the Centrale des Syndicates Democratique (CSD), formed in January 1997, the Syndicat National du Transport Routier (SNTR), part of the Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN) formed in November, 1998, or the Metallos/Coop group in the FTQ.

The Coop offers the same group savings now as it did before it joined the Metallos, such as deals on cellular phones, fuel and insurance. It also has a 24-hour hotline for Montreal members in trouble on the road.

The SRAQ helps its members access training courses, but it does not offer courses itself.

“This is more for members who want to refine their skills,” explains Martin Lasalle, who works in the CSD communications department. SRAQ also has a judicial referral service for members looking for legal advice. This is free, but it does not provide lawyers for court cases.

The SRAQ also follows government legislation, and represents O/Os at the Forum on Trucking, as does the Metallos and SNTR. Of course, the Forum is a way for the three unions represented in it to push for change on behalf of O/Os. The Forum, for example, is reportedly close to having a sample contract ready for O/Os to use when negotiating contracts.

The SNTR runs a bit differently.

“We don’t have services for tires, cell phones, etc. They don’t want that. They want programs to provide personal insurance that covers medicare, medication, hospitals and salary. We have another insurance for their trucks and cargo,” says SNTR president Luc Crevier. “We are putting in place a legal plan so that when O/Os receive fines relating to Law 430, we would supply a lawyer to contest them. This should be in place around September. Right now we do defend some clients. We just defended a guy in the Boston area involving a hit and run. The charges were dropped in court.”

The membership fee for SRAQ is $10 a week, but it seems that current O/O members have yet to be asked to pay more than $5 for a membership card. However, says Crevier, once the legal plan is in place, members will have to start paying the $10 per week. As for representing members in front of the government, Crevier says, “We just asked for a public inquiry into the safety of drivers. I am having a meeting with (Transports Quebec Minister Serge) Menard on July 12 regarding safety.” Crevier wants to have wages tied to time away, not just when the wheels are turning, which was part of the union’s platform early on.

What some O/Os do not want though, is for the unions to succeed in their drive, under the rules set out by Law 135, to force mandatory payment of union dues by all O/Os in the province. In fact, two legal challenges were launched a couple of months ago by O/Os to try and prevent the unions from getting legislation activated that would require forced dues.

That raises two questions. First, is there still a vacuum in Quebec left by APCRIQ, which was completely against mandatory union dues?

“We were there for a reason,” says former APCRIQ president Daniel Brulotte. “It is a sad thing for small businessmen involved in the transport industry that they don’t have anyone half-decent to represent them.”

Second, what are the chances that another association like APCRIQ could be formed?

Brulotte thinks it would be very difficult to do that. As for an association from outside Quebec drawing its O/Os, Brulotte says, “The main barrier would be a question of trusting the integrity of any organization that would represent them.”

As for an outside association being capable of effectively representing O/Os interests in front of the government, Brulotte believes it would have to have a Quebec division in order to do that.

He also questions whether the unions will still be interested in O/Os if their bid for mandatory dues falls through.

“I think you are going to see some people leave the yard,” says Brulotte. “The Metallos are already collecting enough (membership fees) to pay the annual expenses, but the CTQ and the CSD, collecting $5 … you think that if you are continuing to lose money you are going to keep spending it for blah, blah, blah?”

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