TRURO, N.S. – The Truckers Association of Nova Scotia (TANS) was founded in 1967 and has since been on the front lines of dealing with issues of concern to rural truckers in Nova Scotia – acting as a critical link between guys on the road and the government.
At 650 members, TANS’ membership is mainly composed of O/Os with one to three trucks. TANS plays a critical role in keeping these members informed.
Truck News caught up with TANS executive director Dave Roberts, who spoke about the role of the association in the day-to-day operations of Nova Scotia’s trucking industry.
TN: Why was TANS formed?
Roberts: Originally, it was as a mechanism to try to get politics out of what was, at the time, dump truck operations. Politics is prevalent throughout the industry in every province in Canada. However, for our rural members, it is often who you know when you get work, so we put this association together to make it as fair as possible and eliminate any patronage. In doing so, the 80/20 rule was formed.
The association made a huge effort to get everybody province-wide together as individual, local county trucker associations, and in doing so, they incorporated this clause.
When a government tender comes up and the government contractor bids on the tender, each individual association is allowed to use their own truck as a first truck. Then they have to use eight association trucks before they put on a second truck and that is where the 80/20 clause comes into effect.
It doesn’t matter what side of politics you are on, you still have to go through the local county and the whole thing is on a rotational system. This system has been in place since 1993 and it works really well – making sure that every member who owns a truck in each county has the opportunity to work.
TN: What is the primary function of TANS?
Roberts: As executive director, it is my job to find out all of the relevant information and the ins and outs of the industry and the new regulations, of course, and put them in a Reader’s Digest version and get it out to the members.
The system TANS has works very well because there isn’t only one person making the decisions, I see all the paperwork and I take it to my officers and we work through it together. We get the information to guys behind the wheels instead of the guys behind the desk.
We put out newsletters and have a continually updated Web site and databases that are all second to none. We also work on other initiatives such as the TANS license plate project.
But one of our biggest functions is to meet with government and discuss issues and precis all of that information and get it out to our membership.
We also get out on the job sites to talk to the drivers and see where the problems are and work with the contractors on them. We are always trying to become more visible with our own members, and we hit all the little counties each spring and fall. It helps for our members to be able to put a face to the name.
The other thing we feel very strongly about are the safety initiatives we have taken on. TANS is very proactive when it comes to safety, we have formulated our own manuals, we are closely involved with the Trucking Human Resource Sector Council and were instrumental in forming the Nova Scotia Trucking Safety Association.
TN: How do you view the role of associations in general in the trucking industry throughout Canada?
Roberts: Associations are good if they are run properly. It is scary the way they can pop up on a moment’s notice. Associations, especially in the trucking industry, should have one aim and one goal and you head towards that goal. It can be very frustrating sometimes, when a group of guys get together and decide to block the border in protest of fuel prices, for instance, and call themselves an association. We have no idea what their mandate is.
Most associations right across Canada are out for the betterment of the industry, but the associations act says that anyone can form one and sometimes if the mandate isn’t clear and people go out blocking borders or roads, then that is where the industry can acquire a bad name.
TANS is a member of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association, and sometimes we don’t see eye to eye because we have a different type of membership, but I always know we have the same goals, so we have something to start from when we negotiate.
You have to go in to negotiations and try to be the best person you can be and establish that we are industry and we need the help and we try to work towards that goal instead of waiting for someone to show up with a subpoena.
Associations can work really well if you get the right mix of people and the inner workings of the mandate down before you actually go public with something, and if you do that, it will happen.
TN: What are some of the challenges you face in trying to run an organization like TANS?
Roberts: We are always looking for 10 per cent betterment, and when I deal with the local guys it is sometimes difficult to produce that because in many cases we are the middle man. With insurance and fuel price hikes, and here in Nova Scotia we were hit with a 40 per cent increase in registration, sometimes your hands are tied.
Lately, the department of transportation is looking at fiscal restraints as well, so we have been struggling to get the truck hauling rates back up and there is a proposal on the table but it is significantly short of what we were looking for. It gets difficult in situations like that too, because the members have to just let us work on it but they can’t stop working because once you show that confrontational side, you are not only going to attract a bad image but it makes it hard to return to the table for negotiations.
We have decided, by a province-wide vote, to affiliate with a trade union. So this affiliation means that if you got called out to work, you’d pay a certain percentage of your day’s salary and that’s it and the union would still negotiate on your behalf. That worked very well so with things being as tough as they are and the fiscal restraints and as we try to get more meetings with the government, our executive decided to get a professional negotiator at our table.
In 1998 when the first natural gas pipeline went through the province, we affiliated with the International Union of Operating Engineers, who don’t own trucks but they are heavily involved in this industry. With the pipeline industry being strictly unionized, they set up a phenomenal rate of hauling and that affiliation meant the drivers would get paid as they work, which is much better than actually joining a union because a lot of guys are nervous of being a union card carrier.
It takes a long time for some issues to make it to the negotiating table, which can be frustrating for all involved. When I first started with TANS in 1995, I thought I’d get some of this stuff done with the snap of my fingers but four years later we were still at the table, but with perseverance everyone will come together and it will all get done.
TN: Do you see any differences in the challenges you face in Atlantic Canada as opposed to the other parts of the country?
Roberts: I don’t think it is any different here than it is in Victoria, B.C. Everybody is hitting the same roadblocks – hours of service regulations, staggering operating costs, deteriorating roads – same old stuff.
One issue that needs to be addressed further in Atlantic Canada is stabilizing the compliance officers’ activities, which stem from regulations to wide load signage. For something like weights and dimensions, we have our own little Atlantic Canada accord just to ensure that the four provinces on this end of the country are all in line, and we have to become more uniform with issues like that.
However, I’m sure that the Western provinces also have accords on things that are more applicable to their work and their situation out there. In fact, we may have it a little better out here because of the 80/20 clause, when it comes to road work end of it because all of the drivers are going to get some work rather than
one driver getting all the work.
TN: How do you rate the Nova Scotia infrastructure – roads etc.?
Roberts: Like every other province, we are spending so much on fuel tax and it is all going to something other than the roads. The roads are bad, even the 100 series highways are terrible. Our two port areas in Halifax are not good either, you have to have some patience to be a trucker and get downtown to the port. There is going to have to be a lot of money spent to get the infrastructure the way it is supposed to be.
I don’t foresee it happening either. I’m sure we’ll see some patching and masking of some bumps, but the big point is they want to get Route 101 and Route 103 twinned, and there is so much population now going into Halifax from the valley so it is necessary. But it is an election year, so they will spend a little more but mostly doing some very rural roads in order to keep the votes.
TN: Projecting into the future, how do you see things improving?
Roberts: Our goal for the future is to essentially build a co-op, I know it has been tried before in other parts of the country, and it can work if you get enough people in on it. If enough people use a certain type of fuel or a certain type of insurance, you are going to get a reduced cost.
The first step for us is to develop the new affiliation to make sure we stabilize our rates and stabilize the 80/20 rule to make sure people are going where they are supposed to be going.
Then we will be looking at getting other associations involved. Currently we are partners with the Atlantic Provinces Ready Mix Concrete Association, and there is a newly formed solid waste association in the province and they all have trucks in one form or another. So the push right now, is to get everybody to consolidate into one big buying power, which will hopefully, eventually, alleviate some of the expenses for the drivers out there.
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