TORONTO — Amid threats that their carrier company would be shuttered, unionized Highland Transport owner-operators have voted to accept a new contract that pays them less, among other concessions, todaystrucking.com has just learned.
The vote took place this afternoon, and a source confirms that the Steelworkers drivers "begrudgingly" voted ‘yes’ to new the terms, which include a 2.5-cent-per-mile rate cut for all non-heavy-haul loads and empty miles; and the replacement a 48 cent-per-liter cap of fuel with a new fuel surcharge program that requires the drivers to pay the full cost of diesel upfront.
The surcharge program, which reportedly does not pay for out-of-route miles outside of pickup and delivery, could take nearly $10,000 a year out of some drivers’ paycheques.
David Neale, financial secretary treasurer for Local 1976, says that "under the circumstances" the vote is a "small victory" — considering the market landscape for general truckload across central Canada.
"It’s a tough world out there now," he told todaystrucking.com. "The members knew the whole way what the circumstances (in the industry) were. With that in mind the membership made a decision and here we are."
He agrees that the replacement of the 48-cent fuel cap is probably the provision that’s hardest for drivers to get used to. "Sure … that’s a hard thing to lose."
The original union contract was set to expire in December, but facing high fuel expenses, shrinking volume and thin margins, Highland informed Teamsters Local 1976 that it was re-opening the agreement. It also warned that if the drivers rejected it, parent company TransForce would be forced to shut down the Highland division.
And that’s exactly what a majority of owner-ops did in late July in a previous vote. The union followed up by informing the carrier it would file a grievance for "unfair labor practices."
Highland responded by immediately processing termination papers for 50 Steelworker drivers. Days later, it told the union it would hold off on those lay-offs until after a second vote, scheduled for today.
Believing the carrier was in financial difficulty and that its pledges to shut down the fleet were genuine, union management urged its members to unanimously accept the carrier’s final offer.
About 25 owner-operators left the company between the two votes, and a source says there’s some indication that several others voted ‘yes’ to keep the fleet afloat until they find other jobs.
Calls by todaystrucking.com to Highland’s operation manager were not returned by this posting.
Dorothy Sanderson, health and safety rep for the owner-ops, says she’s surprised of the vote results. Now that it’s clear to her that contracts can be renegotiated before they expire, Sanderson is urging that the company take a similar approach if fuel costs ease and the market picks up again.
"If things change for the better (and) fuel continues to decline, I (would hope) that the contract be revisited and changed to better reflect the business environment in the next two years."
That’s certainly a possibility, says Neale. "If the situation changes and the marketplace turns around for the better," he says, "we’d be the first ones to jump in there and say ‘hey, listen, we helped out when things were bad by taking concessionary measures,’ so (perhaps) the contract can be looked at again."
The Steelworkers union represents owner-ops contracted to other carriers under the TransForce umbrella
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