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TANS wants more bargaining power, fuel surcharge

TRURO, N.S. - More bargaining power, fuel surcharges and rate increases on government contracts were the main topics of discussion at the Truckers Association of Nova Scotia's annual general meeting h...

TRURO, N.S. – More bargaining power, fuel surcharges and rate increases on government contracts were the main topics of discussion at the Truckers Association of Nova Scotia’s annual general meeting held in Truro, N.S. in April.

But how to achieve these goals was the subject of much debate.

Still reeling from the loss of longtime executive director Dave Roberts, the executive tried to communicate their approach to ongoing negotiations on government contracts to a membership terrified by the prospect of a fuel spike this summer driving them into bankruptcy.

“You say we go to them and they tell us what they’ll pay us,” said one irate member at the annual general meeting.

“Why don’t we tell them — this is what you have to pay?”

The answer, according to association executives, was longer and more complex than you’d think.

According to them, negotiations have being going well so far, and the executive hope to keep them that way.

“We’ve had a good relationship in negotiations with the government so far and we hope to keep it that way,” said Bill Dowe, TANS secretary/treasurer and Area 2 director.

In fact, TANS negotiators hope to meet with Transport and Public Works department officials soon to establish a fuel escalation charge to be addended to the contract they negotiated earlier this year.

“Yearly TANS sits with the Department of Transportation and Public Works to establish a fair rate to operate a truck on government jobs. This year rates were set (up 6.5 per cent on average, depending on the type of work performed – i.e. hauling asphalt or gravel, or doing ditch work) and there was some satisfaction with the rates, but almost alarm at the increase in fuel costs since,” said Frank Henderson, who recently replaced Roberts as the association’s new executive director.

“(But) there is no reason to expect that government will not sit with us and address this issue.”

For a fuel surcharge formula that will work, as well as other resources, the executive is looking to the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association.

“Things such as fuel escalation charges, load security, weights and dimensions and technology are now common to all of us in each province and our support for each other in the information flow is vital to our success,” said Henderson.

The move is part of an overall attempt to increase the strength of the association and its bargaining power.

Also part of this is the association’s willingness to align itself more closely with a union for operating engineers, which negotiates directly with the province for building contracts, then occasionally subcontracts to association members.

The union has historically done a much better job of bargaining for rates with the province. According to Henderson, union-negotiated rates paid to truck subcontractors in the late ’90s and early 2000s were $63 per hour. Association negotiators, by comparison, only managed to get members $51 per hour when they negotiated with government independently earlier this year.

The proposed affiliation would most likely consist of association members paying a fee to the union for work obtained at rates negotiated by the union. “The difference would offset the percentage paid to the union,” said Dowe. “But our association members wouldn’t have to pay dues or carry union cards.”

Other initiatives discussed at the meeting included a motion to ask that government remove a clause allowing a building contractor to select a designated truck from the established rotational 80/20-work system. The 80/20 system basically allows the contractor to supply 20 per cent of its own truck work and rely on an association rotation list for the hiring of further trucks. But the agreement, which is not legislated and amounts to little more than a “gentleman’s agreement” between TANS members and the provincial government, also includes a clause which allows the contractor to designate a single truck for work, which can be pulled from the rotational list. In other words, if the government wants Number Five on the list to come in and work, Number Five can, for a limited period of time, without losing his or her place in the rotation.

The association wants to remove this part of the agreement, for obvious reasons, but whether it will succeed in doing so is unknown.

“We don’t want to lose the 80/20 agreement completely,” explained Dowe. “So we’ll go and ask to have the designated truck clause removed, but there’s no guarantee they’ll do it.”

While the majority of the membership’s time at the annual general meeting was spent dealing with these issues, there was time for members to socialize as well, most especially at the casino night fundraiser preceding the meeting and the banquet, which followed.

Funds raised went, in part, to an education fund for the children of belated TANS director Dave Roberts.

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