More than 400 owner-operators drove their trucks in a massive protest convoy on Highway 91 outside of Vancouver last Friday.
They said rates in their industry are being forced to the bottom by companies hiring drivers at cut-rate levels, far below the minimum rates enforced for a dwindling few.
Restive truckers demanded an end to what they called widespread rate undercutting in container trucking at Port Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, similar to practices that set off a damaging six-week shutdown in 2005. The Port Authority denies the allegations.
By The Numbers: Containerized Ocean Trade - Port Metro Vancouver, British Columbia.
"Undercutting is still plaguing the industry" and is not being adequately monitored or controlled by Port or government authorities, executive Paul Uppal of the Canadian Auto Workers Union told The Journal of Commerce. CAW is the principal union many owner-operators joined after the 2005 strike.
"We're being forced to the bottom again," he said. A strike, he said, "might be inevitable if we don't get anywhere. What options do we have?"
Chris Badger, vice-president of operations at the Port Authority, denied that companies are undercutting the minimum rates set in late 2005 by mediator Vince Ready, for contracted non-union owner-operators. "The province (British Columbia) has done numerous audits on these companies, and we are confident that they are paying the Vince Ready rate," Badger said in an interview.
Companies have not been paying the minimum rates, about US$97 to $117 per container move depending on circumstances and distances, Uppal said. Provincial audits have turned up at least $623,000 held back from owner-operator drivers by some companies, he said.
The required minimum rates are for owner-operators working for companies without a collective union agreement. There was no union in container trucking in 2005, but some 350-375 drivers are now in CAW and 80-100 drivers are in the Teamsters union. The great majority of Vancouver's container truckers are the 1,500 or so non-union company drivers. They may take whatever rates companies offer them. Non-unionized owner-operators are supposed to get the minimums, but Uppal says they employ various ruses to falsify records and take less.
The number of owner-operators is gradually declining as no new ones are accepted under the post-2005 licensing system. Thus CAW finds it increasingly difficult to negotiate a collective agreement at or near the minimums when the company drivers can be paid a third as much.
The Port Authority's Badger says "the market has changed." With more business and greater cargo movement productivity, drivers can take three or four moves a day rather than one or two as in the past, he said.
Other driver complaints include a new $292 licensing fee starting in January, the lifting of a moratorium on companies licensing new trucks, and the Port Authority's recent decision to ban all trucks of model year 1998 and older.
These practices all make sense, Badger said, and will not be changed.
-- Contact Courtney Tower at email@example.com.