The provincial government of British Columbia was making progress today on implementing a back-to-work bill designed to end a crippling truckers’ strike that is now in its fourth week at Port Metro Vancouver.
The legislation was introduced on yesterday and will require three readings by the legislature, said Louise Yako, president of the British Columbia Trucking Association.
British Columbia’s labor minister, Shirley Bond, said the government introduced the back-to-work legislation “reluctantly,” but other measures have failed, and Canada’s import and export economy continue to suffer during the strike.
Some shipping lines are refusing to unload containerized imports destined for the Vancouver area. They are dropping those containers off in Seattle-Tacoma. Containerized exports that move by truck are also affected. Vancouver’s four terminals are still handling containers that move to and from the port via intermodal rail.
It appears that the back-to-work bill will be approved tomorrow despite opposition by the New Democratic Party, which is supported by unions. Implementation would take place 72 hours later. Since that date falls on the weekend, the legislation would take effect on March 31, Yako said.
Impact of legislation could be small
Even then, the impact of the back-to-work legislation could be minimal if the majority of truckers at Port Metro Vancouver decide not to work. The bill covers only about 250 unionized workers who are represented by Unifor. Yako said there are about 2,000 registered trucks in the harbor, of which 1,200 could be considered frequent callers.
There are several other unions that are not covered by the legislation. Also there are almost 1,000 independent owner-operators who are not covered by the bill. Many of the non-unionized independent drivers are represented by the United Truckers’ Association, but UTA has no bargaining authority.
Strike began with non-union drivers
Non-unionized drivers began the strike at Canada’s largest port in late February, and they were joined on March 10 by Unifor. Drivers are pushing demands for higher wages and measures that would reduce long waiting times at marine terminals.
These issues are not new, as they precipitated a six-week strike at Port Metro Vancouver in 2005. Federal Mediator Vince Ready helped to resolve that strike by establishing a minimum rate structure in the harbor that bears his name.
Ready was called back this month to broker a deal with the truckers. The result is a 14-point action plan that includes an increase in the minimum rate, a fuel surcharge and payment of $25 per truck visit for drivers who must wait two hours or longer to be processed at a marine terminal.
The action plan has produced very little action, however, because the port and government agencies will not implement it until most of the drivers return to work, and many of the drivers refuse to work until they can negotiate a better deal.
Truck traffic varies on a daily basis
Truck traffic at Port Metro Vancouver ebbs and flows from day to day. TSI, Vancouver’s largest terminal operator, opened on March 22, and Eric Waltz, president, said almost 800 gate moves were processed, which is about normal for a Saturday gate.
However, truck volume fell off on March 24, according to Yako. The port authority said that day’s truck volume was about 32 percent of normal. A number of drivers continue to picket at the port.
The back-to-work legislation is one of the steps authorities can take to force more drivers to return to work. The bill includes provisions for a $10,000 fine on the union and a $400 fine for each driver who does not return to work.
Late last week Robin Silvester, president of Port Metro Vancouver, said the port authority will not renew the licenses of those drivers whose licenses are set to expire in March, April and May. Drivers must have a port-issued license in order to call at marine terminals in Vancouver.