CN Terminal Troubles Provoke Intermodal Industry Infighting

by Ingrid Phaneuf and, Katy de Vries

BRAMPTON, Ont. – Growing tension at CN’s Brampton terminal erupted in September.

While those who continued to cross the impromptu picket line set up Sept. 2 outside the CN yard claimed they were subjected to everything from name calling to vandalism and physical threats, protesters claimed they were doing their best to respect the law and conduct themselves peacefully.

“Drivers are going in and being threatened or being told they’re going to have their windshields smashed,” said Parker Chan, owner of Best Choice Express.

“One of our drivers had his window smashed with a rock when he was leaving a customer’s place one night. And the next morning the windshields of four trucks parked at our terminal were smashed,” said Chan.

According to Chan, both incidents occurred overnight Sept. 2 to 3.

The driver, who had earlier picked up at CN, was actually leaving the scene of another pick-up in Brampton when he claimed to have encountered three men who threw a rock at his windshield, shattering it.

Early the next morning (Sept. 3), the four trucks with broken windshields were discovered.

“We stopped sending drivers,” said Chan.

Carmel International president Robert Volfson also stopped picking up and delivering to CN yards.

“We’re respecting the commitments we already made but we’re not going to take any new business,” Volfson said Sept. 3.

“It’s a bad situation – equipment is being damaged. Windows are being broken. Stones are being thrown at drivers. It’s ugly.” (The no pick-up, no-delivery policy remained the same as of Truck News press time.)

Chan and Volfson weren’t alone in their belief that the violence to drivers and damage to trucks were due to the ongoing conflict with CN Brampton.

Both said drivers had refused to go to the terminal.

Other carriers and drivers, who asked not to be named, said they’d been threatened or witnessed fights breaking out near the picket line, with the violence growing more acute at night.

“We are very concerned for the safety of our drivers and our equipment,” said one letter sent by a carrier to customers, and anonymously forwarded to Truck News.

“Due to this, we are suspending service to and from CN rail facilities.”

The Canadian International Freight Forwarders’ Association (CIFFA) also issued several e-missives warning of a potential total shutdown due to the protest at the terminal.

All this, despite the apparent calm witnessed by Truck News when a reporter visited the picket site around 10 a.m. Sept. 5, where 20 or so owner/operators were picketing.

“We want to respect the injunction (prohibiting pickets from blocking terminal gates) and be safe with our protesting efforts,” said Abdi Nasir Yusuf, president of the Container Carrier Owner Operators’ Association of Ontario (CCOOAO).

“It really wouldn’t be to our benefit to impede on the injunction because then we are just labeled troublemakers, so we have left the trucks at home and we aren’t blocking traffic because we are up on the grass and not on the road.”

Yusuf described CN’s treatment of drivers as “disgusting.”

“We wait seven or eight hours, normally,” he said. “And the whole time, we aren’t making a dime. Truckers are averaging $200 a day and we can’t make a living on that.”

Ahmed Abdula said the problem is with CN management.

He waved a cardboard sign reading “1 HR= $0, 2HR=$0, (and so on up to) 8 HR = $0.”

“It isn’t a labour shortage, and it isn’t the truckers causing the delays,” said Abdula. “It’s management (CN) failing to properly manage its company.”

Frustrated driver Italo Moscoso looked exhausted.

“It’s gone on for years now and it is time that something is done about it,” he said.

“So, we want the steamship lines, the rail yards, the brokers and the carriers to sit with us and find a solution.”

Without terminal delays, a driver could move about eight to 10 containers locally on an average day, Moscoso said.

“But if I spend eight hours sitting at the BIT (Brampton Intermodal terminal) I can move two or three if I’m lucky.”

As for on-site facilities for truckers who are waiting for their loads, they’re disgusting, according to the people on the picket line.

“There are no facilities for us to use at all while we are waiting, there is one tiny disgusting washroom that no one in their right mind would use,” said Abdula.

These were the issues on the minds of truckers Truck News visited on the picket line.

Picket organizers said they hoped to gain support through solidarity, not fist fights or other violence.

Abdi Nasir Yusuf said he was happy with the protest turnout so far and was convinced every driver that has to deal with CN would support the initiative voluntarily.

“We have at least 200 trucks that aren’t working right now, and we want more. Once CN realizes that we are an important part of their operation and starts to respect the people who are making the trains move, maybe we can all come to the table and resolve this,” he said.

One man charged

Be that as it may, Peel region police said they have so far charged one man with uttering threats to cause bodily harm in connection with the dispute.

Gennadi Pozin, 44, from Toronto, reportedly approached a driver in the Tim Horton’s parking lot near the Brampton terminal, said Constable Todd Moore.

“It happened around 1:40 p.m. Sunday (Sept.7),” said Constable Moore. “The victim had parked his truck and was approached by the accused and an argument broke out. According to the report it was because the accused believed the victim was going to cross the picket line. Some verbal threats were made, and some death threats. “

According to the police report, the accused told police he was hired to deal with strikebreakers.

Peel police have been to the picket site numerous times since the dispute broke out, said Const. Moore.

“We got our first call Sept. 2, and we sent a cruiser,” he said. “We also sent in a labour relations unit, which deals with labour disputes.”

When police arrived Sept. 2 there were about 12 pickets on the line but not directly at the entrance of the terminal, the constable said.

CN had an injunction against pickets blocking entrances or exits to the yard.

Police were called in again Sept. 3, for rocks and eggs being thrown at drivers trying to enter the yard.

“We didn’t see any of that actually happening but officers did discover rocks and bits of eggs at the scene,” Const. Moore said adding police were told there were about 100 pickets on site prior to their arrival.

When police arrived at 8:50 p.m., there were approximately 20, he said.

Police were called in again Sept. 4, but did not witness any disruptive behavior, the constable said. Approximately 50 pickets were on the scene, he said.

Police asked them to remove their vehicles, which were parked on the grass north of the roadway and were in violation of traffic bylaws.

Police were called in again Friday, Sept. 5 and again no violence was witnessed.

Police came back periodically through Saturday as well.

It was on Sunday, Sept. 7, that the charge of uttering threats was laid.

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