Teamsters balk at 14-hour proposal

by John G. Smith

TORONTO, Ont. – Canada’s Teamsters have launched a national campaign against a proposal that would allow truckers to work 14 hours per day, and are looking to the general public to help them in the fight for a daily limit of 12 hours on-duty time – two of which would be for breaks.

All of that would be tracked with electronic recorders rather than traditional logbooks, similar to an approach being considered in the U.S.

Union executive launched the campaign in Toronto on June 5, using a hotel housing members of the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) as a backdrop.

The group of bureaucrats, lobbyists and industry representatives was discussing hours of service as part of its annual meeting, and is the architect of the 14-hour proposal.

A simulated crash between a truck and car that was displayed on a flatbed trailer left little doubt that the union also plans to play on public fears in its campaign that will feature an array of billboards.

“We come here this morning to make the general public aware,” said international vice-president Joe McClean, with a balcony filled with CCMTA officials watching from above. “To increase those total number of hours to 14 is a total disregard for public safety on our roads, a total disregard for your families and the quality of life on highways across Canada. It makes one wonder exactly who it is pushing for these changes. It’s not me. I don’t think it’s anyone in this union.

“Employers want to squeeze the last drop of profit out of their drivers and their contractors. They should be ashamed of themselves… We cannot allow this to happen. The hours of regulation should be going the other way. We should be working probably 10 hours per day. We shouldn’t be looking to work 14. This isn’t 1950.”

Garnett Zimmerman, president of Vancouver Local 31 and a leader in that region’s dispute that earned an hourly wage for truckers serving the Port of Vancouver, echoed the concerns.

“Every single study on driver fatigue shows that on every additional hour of driving that fatigue sets in at a rate of three times the normal rate,” Zimmerman said. “Eventually your system shuts down.

“Governments are making a big issue over public safety, that they’re worried about truck wheels falling off, that they’re worried about brakes on the truck. Well, quite frankly, I don’t give a damn anymore whether a truck’s got brakes or not. If a driver falls asleep at the wheel, he can’t apply the brakes, so what difference does it make?

“It’s ridiculous to think any working person should have to work 14 hours a day to make a living, never mind being in a safety-sensitive position,” he said.

Although the union that represents a reported 30,000 truckers has had a seat in the CCMTA discussions, it’s obviously frustrated that its 12-hour approach hasn’t been adopted.

“This thing is done in a closed circuit. The people were not consulted,” said Robert Bouvier, president of Teamsters Canada. “What’s wrong with talking to the general population?”

Nor does the union appear worried that its proposed rules would make it impossible to make a return journey between Montreal and Toronto – two of Canada’s largest economic centres. It’s largely believed that the 13-hours of driving time allowed under current regulations came about because of the distance between the two cities.

“We think the security has got to be the first thing taken care of. To say people have got to be able to drive 14 hours, we will never accept that because it jeopardizes our members … and then the public in general,” Bouvier told Truck News before the demonstration began. “Nobody can convince us that it’s secure for to drive your car and your family next to a guy who’s been on the road for 14 hours.

“We’re putting billboards up across Canada, denouncing the 14 hours. We will not accept the owners, the trucking associations or the government jeopardizing public safety.”

The electronic recorders are needed to end abuse of the hours of service rules, adds Teamsters freight director Wayne Gibson. “They (truckers) can run two logbooks and it’s done all the time. We’re opposed to the unsafe operation of a vehicle.”

A similar crowd appeared in Montreal on the same day, parked in front of Premier Lucien Bouchard’s office on Rene Levesque Boulevard.

The Teamsters also hope to reiterate their position in public consultations. But they think the decision regarding the hours of service changes has already been made. “That is why we denounce the process,” says Francois Laporte, the union’s director of government affairs.

The CCMTA, however, still has plans to ask the general public to comment on its proposal – a proposal that means less time behind the wheel than Canada’s drivers are now allowed.

“The position at the table has been for less hours rather than more hours,” says Brian Orrbine, who’s chairing the CCMTA committee that’s studying hours of service. Under current rules, Canadian drivers can roll their wheels for 16 hours out of every 24, with a system that allows 13 hours behind the wheel before requiring eight hours of off-duty time.

Transport Canada staff are drafting the current proposal into a legal framework, which should be ready as a first draft this month (July). The committee will then meet through the summer, before it’s sent out to the provinces, and then to the general public for its comments.

For Ernie Gibson, a retired trucker and Teamsters member at the rally, the idea of limiting driving time is a sign of changing times.

“I don’t believe in that 14-hour business,” he said. Although, that’s closer to the world of trucking that he joined more than 30 years ago. “Fourteen hours was a regular day. Usually we worked more,” he admitted. “But safety wasn’t as much an issue as it is today.” n

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