VANCOUVER, BC — One labor union is asking a British Columbia judge to force Container Trucking Commissioner Andy Smith to order the payment of back wages it claims are owed by port trucking companies to container truckers at Port Metro Vancouver.
In documents filed with the court on Tuesday, Unifor is alleging that Smith is in a clear conflict of interest because he is employed as both the commissioner and the lead lobbyist of the BC Maritime Employers’ Association, an organization representing many commercial interests connected to Port Metro Vancouver.
The truckers shut down the port for around four weeks in March 2014 over long wait times and pay, eventually leading to a settlement and ending the protests, known as the Joint Action Plan. It was signed by Premier Christy Clark, representatives for federal Minister of Transportation Lisa Raitt, and Unifor.
“We have a deal signed by the premier, that should be worth something,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor’s BC area director. “Trucking companies are breaking the rules, and the commissioner is letting them. We’re going to fight for justice, because container truck drivers work hard and deserve the wages promised to them in good faith over a year ago.”
According the Journal of Commerce, Unifor, which is Canada’s largest private sector-union, represents about 400 of the port’s 1,450 drayage drivers.
Smith has yet to publically comment on the allegations in the lawsuit, according to published reports.
GlobalNews.ca reports BC Minister of Transportation Todd Stone said in a written statement he is aware court documents have been filed and “will not be commenting while it’s before the courts.” However, he did say “The Provincial Container Trucking commissioner is an essential part of creating the conditions needed for long-term port trucking stability which will benefit truckers and the companies who employ them. The commissioner has pledged to fulfill his duties independently and objectively and this includes enforcing payment of rates and fining those who are not in compliance.”
The provincial government appointed Smith several months ago at a rate of $800 a day while working as the commissioner to enforce the Container Trucking Act, according to Unifor. A government order from December 2014 created regulations to mandate that rates established in the Joint Action Plan be retroactively paid to all drivers for all moves beginning on April 3, 2014.
In January 2015, trucking companies also signed a statutory declaration swearing that they owed no back wages in order to apply for new licenses issued under the Container Trucking Act, according to Unifor, something it said is “demonstrably false in many cases.”
“The fox is guarding the henhouse,” said Paul Johal, president of Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association (VCTA). “Port Metro Vancouver must operate with integrity. If truckers can’t be guaranteed the wages they’re owed under the law, it threatens the operation of the Port.”
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