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Strike, strike, strike

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Buying a new piece of iron is always a welcomed dream for many O/Os. Taking the new ride out for a spin, even your first trip across the border is like riding on a dream. No noise,...


MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Buying a new piece of iron is always a welcomed dream for many O/Os. Taking the new ride out for a spin, even your first trip across the border is like riding on a dream. No noise, no unwanted vibrations, just you and the road.

If you’re signed up with the International Registration Plan (IRP) and bought your new wheels on or around Mar. 13, your dream is probably turning into one big nightmare with inevitable debt consuming your every last bit of energy.

That was the fateful Wednesday the Ontario Public Services Employees’ Union (OPSEU) went on strike to try, again, to reach an agreement suiting both government and the unionized workers. At stake are pensions, benefits, pay increases, employment equity and all the other amenities employees want, have, or dream of having. But the unionized workers aren’t the only ones who are risking their livelihoods as the strike affects all residents of Ontario who depend on their services.

Running a risk

One O/O who asked not to be identified bought a 2002 Western Star to replace his 1996 Freightliner on Mar. 12. Being an IRP member (membership paid for until Nov. 30, 2002) meant the perk of not having to pay PST, but unfortunately because the purchase took place the day before the strike began, there was no time to transfer the IRP plate to the new truck or get the commercial plate. What is one to do?

This gentleman, feeling as though he was backed into a corner, decided to drive his new truck with an un-plated ownership, using his IRP plate. As surprising as it seems (because this interview was conducted over the telephone while he was in Pennsylvania) the operator nonetheless still managed to make it through the border. “They never checked (the registration of the vehicle). If they would happen to check then I probably would have been turned around,” he says.

“How he got across and how he is managing down there, I couldn’t comment,” says Ansar Ahmed, manager of the issues in media office for the Ministry of Transportation (MTO). Ahmed assumes regular procedure would be to turn the vehicle back as in the case of a car.

While in Virginia, (the morning of the interview) the O/O’s horseshoes continued to work when he received an axle weight ticket (he was 1,400lb heavy on the trailer tandems).

Wondering how he still managed to haul with his unregistered truck?

“I explained it (the OPSEU strike) to them and they didn’t care,” he says. “This is a case where they know me. I’m down here twice a week, I’ve paid my share of axle weight tickets.”

The owner/op bought himself a Virginia heavy weights permit, which is only good on secondary roads, but it gets him across the scale. This is one case when luck and special circumstances came into play.

Temporary solutions

“There have been a couple of mitigation measures that the government has brought in. For example, with drivers’ licences, they have passed a regulation extending the validity of any drivers’ licence that expired during the strike until the end of the strike,” explains Doug Switzer, manager of government relations with the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA). “Where it has been causing problems for drivers is that they get pulled over and obviously the word hasn’t gotten down to the State troopers in Texas that Ontario is having a strike.”

Switzer says IRP registration has been a little trickier. The government has extended the validation of those expired but people seeking new registrations are left hanging high and dry.

Another point of concern was overweight and oversized permits.

“Obviously drivers who need to get single trip permits have been unable to get those,” says Switzer. The government brought in mitigation measures for this as well. “They gave us a system whereby carriers who need a single trip permit can get one if they have an annual permit. They can operate above and beyond the dimensions of their permit.”

The solution allows for a special amendment to existing annual permits while single trip permits are not available. The amendment allows for weights and dimensions that exceed the annual permit limits as follows: annual permit limits for height (4.26m) and width (3.7m on two-lane/3.85m on multi-lane highways); overall length (up to 28m) with an overhang provision; the interim measure allows for weight to exceed 63,500kg for specified configurations. Carriers must notify the MTO of the intended move at least four hours in advance via fax at 905-704-2564, with a form provided on the OTA Web site (www.ontruck.org) and agree to make payment to the MTO at prescribed single trip permit fees after the strike.

During the 1996 strike, all inspection stations were closed, but this time around there is an essential services agreement with the union.

Affecting everyone

Not only are drivers affected by the strike, but carriers are starting to feel the pinch with the inability to hire new workers.

“We’ve got a lot of interest in hiring but we can’t licence our trucks for IRP. It hasn’t been a big problem so far, but for the guys that have quit their jobs and wanted to start another one, it’s the wrong time,” says Don Hussey, manager of driver recruitment for Laidlaw’s van division.

He says he has not hired anyone since the strike began and will not do so until it ends.

“It’s too complicated. With the tax structures today and this IRP situation, we’re just kind of in a holding pattern.”

He admits the effects on Laidlaw have not hit the scale of ‘big time trouble,’ but any longer and it may.

“In this business you always have turnover,” says Hussey.

Sales manager for Mid-Ontario Freightliner, Adrian Hamill, says the general feeling among his sales representatives is that the strike is hurting their business to some degree.

“We currently have five tractors which require IRP plates which unfortunately we cannot deliver to the customer,” he says. “If this continues for another month, we could have upwards of 10 tractors waiting for delivery. Not only an inconvenience to the customer, but a cost to the dealership.”

Under the radar

Meanwhile our anonymous O/O, who works for a small trucking firm, is still travelling with a copy of the plate portion of his previous truck, and the ownership of his current truck. He also has a letter stating the owner of the IRP plate, his employer, recognizes he is unable to transfer the plate due to the strike.

“We realize that this is by no means a solution, and I am sure this is very risky for us but there is no other solution. He is going to lose money phenomenally if he stays home,” says the fleet’s secretary treasurer (who would also rather remain anonymous for obvious reasons). “Most of the states that our company drivers go to require trip permits that are apparently not good for the whole portion of time (most permits have a duration of 72 hours) and on the other side we have a plate … Who is going to reimburse us for the money we have to pay when we already have something that is paid for?”

Legally, the O/O would be required to buy a commercial plate (approximately $250 for three months) and several trip permits (on average $50 each) or leave his brand new 2002 Western Star parked in his yard until the end of the strike.

This, obviously is not an option.

“I’d go broke. The strike is in its fourth week. I had sold my old truck private, so I couldn’t back-out on that deal,” he says. “It’s pretty tough to make a $2,800 truck payment when you are sitting at the house.”

The risks involved in this particular scenario are many.

“What I’m doing is stupid, but do I have a choice?” he says. “If I had a wreck and killed somebody a lawyer would jump all over that and I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.”

In case you’re wondering about the peril faced by this intrepid fellow crossing the border, one U.S. Customs agent tells Truck News, the truck could have been seized.


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