BRITISH COLUMBIA

Truckers say strike at port hurting consumers and the B.C. economy

03/10/2014 05:39 EDT | Updated 05/10/2014 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - The strike by unionized and non-unionized container-truck drivers in Metro Vancouver is already hurting the province's economy and will only give Canada's largest port a "black eye," say local labour leaders.

Hundreds of members of Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers' Association parked their rigs Monday, joining the more than 1,000 members of the non-union United Truckers Association who have been on strike since last month.

The issues for the drivers serving Port Metro Vancouver terminals include better pay, standardized rates that would prevent drivers from undercutting each other and long delays for truckers at terminals.

The groups reached a tentative deal with their employers last week, but the members voted against the agreement over the weekend.

Union spokesman Gavin McGarrigle said the terminals ship out about $885 million worth of cargo every week, and Vancouver's port faces fierce competition along the West Coast from Seattle, Tacoma and Los Angeles.

He notes this is the third such truckers dispute at the port in the past 15 years.

"The real thing that has us concerned is this is going to, you know, give Port Metro Vancouver a black eye," he said.

McGarrigle said it won't be long before fewer products make it onto store shelves and shipping costs increase because customers have to consider alternative methods.

Manny Dosange, spokesman for the United Truckers Association, agreed, although he said he didn't want to point fingers.

"I think we all got a black eye, as far as the Canadian industry goes here ... by not working together," he said.

Dosange said customers have told the association's members that their products are being locked up at the ports.

In fact, hundreds of kilometres to the south, competitors at Washington's state's Port of Tacoma have already taken notice of the labour dispute.

Port spokeswoman Tara Mattina said in an email that she's aware of the strike and rail delays in Vancouver.

"We have heard anecdotally that some customers are planning to divert Vancouver-bound cargo to Tacoma because of the snags," she said in an email.

But she said it's too early to know how many containers could be rerouted south as a result.

John Parker-Jervis, a spokesman for Port Metro Vancouver, said the port's four container terminals saw only about 10 per cent of their normal truck traffic on Monday.

On Sunday, Robin Silvester, the port's president and CEO, said goods are not moving, which is bad news for consumers and businesses.

"We agree that truckers should be paid a fair wage, but bargaining relating to employment and contract relationships can only be done with the employer or the parties to the contract," said Silvester.

"Port Metro Vancouver is not the employer and is not party to the contract relationships.”

According to the port, the local container-trucking sector is fragmented and includes about 150 privately owned trucking companies, 800 owner-operators and about 2,000 trucks.

Companies and drivers contract with each other for services, and the port is not involved in collective or commercial agreements, which set trucking rates.

But Dosange said the port is directly involved with several issues on the table, including waiting times.

Meantime, McGarrigle said the industry needs a stable bargaining relationship and agreements that are backstopped by the government and the ports.

Port Metro Vancouver trades $172 billion in goods each year and generates about $6.1 billion in wages and $9.7 billion in GDP.