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Violence spills over during B.C. trucker strike

VANCOUVER, B.C. - While the ongoing container hauler strike at the Port of Vancouver wasn't intended to impact domestic freight haulers, at least one driver appears to have gotten caught in the crossf...

VANCOUVER, B.C. – While the ongoing container hauler strike at the Port of Vancouver wasn’t intended to impact domestic freight haulers, at least one driver appears to have gotten caught in the crossfire – literally.

A driver for Van-Kam Freightways was making a late night beer delivery on Annacis Island June 29 when his truck windshield was smashed and the trailer riddled with bullets.

The incident provoked fear and outrage among domestic freight haulers who aren’t involved in the dispute.

“These are domestic moves we are doing and they are not moves to a port,” a puzzled Bill Henry, Van-Kam president told local media.

“We have nothing to do with this dispute. We don’t think we should be targeted.”

As Truck West went to press, no charges had been laid. But local law enforcement officers and even Transport Minister Kevin Falcon hinted striking truckers were behind the shooting.

“I have had a number of conversations with individuals that are telling me they are seeing things and indications that there may be more of this to come,” Falcon told local media.

Meanwhile, containers were bing stacked high at the Port of Vancouver as 1,200 truckers continued to dig in their heels, refusing to haul containers to or from Canada’s busiest port.

They were disputing inadequate rates in light of surging fuel costs and, at press time, had already crippled the port’s ability to transport about 40 per cent of the containers it receives. (About 75 per cent of container haulers are represented by the recently formed Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association (VCTA), led by spokesman and owner/operator Paul Uppal.)

The drivers parked their trucks June 28 and as Truck West went to press, the striking truckers and their employers were still far from an agreement. The provincial government has also intervened, appointing well-known mediator Vince Ready as a facilitator but talks with him broke off almost immediately after they began on July 5.

“The brokers failed to step up to the plate,” Uppal announced after talks broke down. “They refused to move beyond the existing inadequate rates. The reality is that the brokers are focused (on) competing amongst themselves at our expense.”

It was bad news for Vancouver Port Authority (VPA) officials, who claim they are paying a steep price for a dispute between truck drivers and their employers.

“The Port of Vancouver is very concerned about the impact of this dispute,” said Capt. Chris Badger, vice-president of customer development and operations with the VPA. “The port has a strong interest in seeing this dispute resolved, but it is not a party to this dispute.

“The present dispute is between the VCTA and a group of approximately 60 companies in the shipping business. The port is not involved in any negotiations or agreements between the VCTA and those companies.”

Still, it’s the port and B.C.’s economy that appear to be suffering the most as a result of the shutdown.

As Truck West went to press, some estimates suggested more than 1,300 containers were stacked up on the dock. VPA spokeswoman Anne McMullin said that represented a backlog of three to four days.

The 60 per cent of containers moved by rail had not yet been impacted.

Still, VPA officials claimed the dispute cost about $33 million per day, adding the containerized cargo moved by truck accounts for $1.2 billion in annual economic output.

The port is concerned this dispute could have far-reaching effects as shippers lose faith in the Port of Vancouver and begin shipping their containers through U.S. ports.

“Once cargo is diverted to other ports, it is very difficult to win back the lost business and trust,” the VPA announced on its Web site.

Capt. Gord Houston, head of the VPA, echoed that comment saying “Once business is lost, it can be very difficult to win back. For the thousands of B.C. families who depend on the port, the impact could be significant.”

Shippers who felt the pinch most included exporters of food and forest products, as well as specialty grains, peas, lentils and beans, the VPA reported.

Meanwhile, any importer and commodity destined for B.C. could also find itself affected.

Still, container haulers insisted they are the ones who will pay the ultimate price if they continue hauling containers at today’s rates.

They said they need raises of $150-$200 per day to keep up with skyrocketing fuel costs.

While container truckers can earn up to $400 per day, owner/operators said they only take home about $50 per day after expenses – an impossible amount to live on.

Tensions have been running high among owner/operators in B.C. this year.

In the spring, about 1,000 gravel haulers from the Lower Mainland walked off the job protesting high fuel costs and low rates.

They ended up winning a 12 per cent fuel surcharge as well as a formula for dealing with future fuel price changes.With neither side willing to budge in the container trucker dispute, it appeared it could be some time before a similar agreement is reached.

As Truck West went to press, the VCTA’s Uppal said an industrial inquiry commission should be formed to help bring about a solution. For its part, the VPA was urging both sides to sit down at the table and hammer out a deal before permanent damage is done.

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