Truck traffic at Port Metro Vancouver continued to increase over the weekend, but still remained below normal as the maritime community anticipated introduction of back-to-work legislation today by the British Columbia government.
Even if the provincial government introduces back-to-work legislation, which will call for a 90-day cooling-off period, hundreds of striking drivers will most likely ignore the order, according to union and non-union drivers who urged defiance by the rank and file.
TSI Terminals, the largest container terminal operator in Vancouver, was open on Saturday, March 22, and had about 800 gate moves, which is good for a Saturday, said Eric Waltz, president.
Overall, Vancouver terminals experienced about 40 percent of normal truck traffic heading into the weekend, the port authority stated in a release. That was up from 10 to 20 percent earlier last week. Today’s traffic flow will be announced at the end of the work shift.
Vancouver, Canada’s largest port, is served by unionized drives as well as non-unionized owner-operators. The strike by non-union drivers began in late February, so the continued walkout today sent the job action into its fourth week. Unionized truckers, many of whom are represented by Unifor, joined the strike on March 10.
The striking drivers want higher wages and faster turn times at the marine terminals. They also want to negotiate directly with the government and Port Metro Vancouver on these issues.
The port authority has publicly informed the drivers that although government agencies and the port can act as facilitators in this dispute, they have no bargaining authority. Wages are negotiated between the drivers and the trucking companies that employ them or contract with them.
Meanwhile, with truck-dependent cargo building up at the port, some shipping lines are diverting the containers destined for local Vancouver delivery to Seattle or Tacoma, Wash., Waltz said. Others are sending their containers inland via intermodal rail, he said. The terminals are still handling rail cargo.
Back-to-work legislation would be the latest attempt by authorities to convince drivers to return to their jobs. Last week, Robin Silvester, president of Port Metro Vancouver, said the port authority will not renew the licenses it issues to drivers as those licenses expire. In order to call at marine terminals, drivers must secure a license from the port.
Silvester said licenses due to expire in March, April and May will not be renewed if documentation provided by trucking companies shows that the drivers have not been working regularly.
The federal government has also enlisted the services of veteran arbitrator Vince Ready, who was instrumental in resolving a six-week truckers’ strike in Vancouver in 2005. The government agencies and Port Metro Vancouver last week published a 14-point action plan that was developed with Ready’s assistance.
The plan would raise the minimum wage, which is set by the government but is meant only to be a floor. The plan would also set driver compensation for truck transactions that take longer than two hours.
However, the authorities said they will only begin to implement the plan if most of the truckers return to work, and many of the more than 1,000 striking drivers said they will not return to work until their demands are met.