Rocky road for B.C. gravel haulers

VANCOUVER — As the hourly rate for gravel haulers in B.C. slides downward, truckers are looking to their union for a solution, which might include a work stoppage.

More than 200 gravel haulers gathered last week in Surrey, B.C. to ask the Teamsters Union to come up with some options to deal with unacceptably low trucking rates. The focus of their anger is the decision by Peter Kiewit and Sons, the lead contractor on the Port Mann Bridge expansion project, to reduce the gravel haulage rate from previously established levels.

The hourly rate for a tandem gravel truck in the B.C. government’s Blue Book is $93.45 an hour, but the union says Kiewit is only paying $65 an hour.

“When Kiewit and its partner Flatiron Constructors won the $2.465 Billion contract early this year, it was a fixed-price contract based on prevailing supply costs at that time,” said Don McGill, president of the BC Teamsters Union.

He said that since then, the international economic crisis has hit construction hard, idling many independently owned and operated gravel trucks. This opened the door for Kiewit to lower the rate it was willing to pay, he said.

McGill said the truckers in the meeting – both union and non-union – were clear and direct. They can not survive with these low haulage rates, particularly if they become the standard on other projects such as the South Fraser Perimeter Road.

The three international bidders on that project are now refining their bids for presentation in the New Year. He said the meeting was unanimous that the gravel haulage rate needed to be protected, and they asked the union to develop some strategies and options to achieve that goal.

In the two-hour meeting, truckers called for swift action to deal with the issue, many calling for an immediate shutdown of the industry. McGill said those options will be presented to owner-operators in a meeting to be scheduled for early next week.

In June of 2004 BC’s independent truckers shut down the construction industry for two weeks. The issue at that time was haulage rates as well as gasoline surtaxes. The truckers went back to work only after government-appointed mediators engineered an industry-wide agreement on rates.

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