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Strike wears on; patience wears thin

EDMONTON, Alta. - Picketers are continuing to hold up trucks at Petro-Canada's Edmonton refinery, as negotiations have ground to a standstill in the six-week long strike.More than 100 trucks enter the...


THE TRUCK STOPS HERE: Striking workers hold up a truck entering Petro-Canada's Edmonton refinery. (Photo by James Menzies)
THE TRUCK STOPS HERE: Striking workers hold up a truck entering Petro-Canada's Edmonton refinery. (Photo by James Menzies)

EDMONTON, Alta. – Picketers are continuing to hold up trucks at Petro-Canada’s Edmonton refinery, as negotiations have ground to a standstill in the six-week long strike.

More than 100 trucks enter the plant each day, but not before they’re held up by angry picketers in search of a better pension plan.

Mark Schweitzer, public relations representative for Communications Energy and Paperworks Local 501A, says that trucks will continue to face delays at the refinery, but not at the expense of public safety.

“They’re being held up for about two to four minutes going out,” says Schweitzer. “We didn’t want to affect public safety by having the trucks on the road.”

He explains that incoming trucks are generally allowed to pass so outbound units don’t have their view of oncoming traffic impaired.

As tankers roll into the refinery, union members have been pumping the drivers full of information – both verbally and via printed leaflets. Although some of the driver’s have been sympathetic, the appeal has largely fallen on deaf ears.

“All the independents have been very good,” says Schweitzer. “But as for Mantei’s and Petro-Canada trucks, some of them have been very ignorant.”

But Ben Krudys, a trucker who hauls fuel for MFP Tractor Service, says that the picketers have blown any chance of getting the drivers on their side.

“In the beginning, they were looking for sympathy from the drivers, but they want us to lose money so they can make more money,” says Krudys while idling at the picket line. “They’re not getting any sympathy from the drivers at all.”

Krudys says that before the strike, he could be in and out of the plant in less than 45 minutes, but since the strike began in early April, he’s had delays of up to three hours.

Neufeld trucker Don Wiebe agrees that the union’s tactics aren’t winning them any friends in the trucking industry.

“We’re not the ones they should be stopping,” says Wiebe, noting that Neufeld is an independent hauler. “It makes my day longer and I have a 12 hour day without this.”

Miller Tractor Service driver, Bob Greek, says that although the delays are a nuisance, it could be a lot worse.

“I’m not really inconvenienced that much,” says Greek. “It’s four to 10 minutes, so it’s not really too bad yet.”

Meanwhile, figures on both sides of the picket line are accusing the others of using intimidation tactics.

The union claims that Mantei’s Transport has been running empty trucks through the refinery. Once a certain number of trucks are backed up behind the line, the labor board can be called in to open things up by moving strikers back.

Mantei’s Transport officials refused to comment on the situation.

For its part, the union has been accused of a little dirty dealing, as well. There were unconfirmed reports of longer delays and debris being thrown under the tires of units crossing the line.

“In the beginning they were trying intimidation tactics,” says Krudys. “They were taking pictures of our trucks and we had one driver followed.”

Although most of the confrontations between picketers and truckers have been peaceful, Schweitzer warns drivers should brace for a long strike.

“Every time we go back to the table they say ‘The offer that you voted down is still there, and that’s it,'” says Schweitzer. “They come with the same package every time.”

In the meantime, engineers, management and replacement workers are holding down the fort, and operating at what the union estimates is only about 40 per cent of capacity. n


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