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Port workers in strike position; no action from truckers yet

VANCOUVER -- The Port of Vancouver could be on the verge of boiling over -- again.

Nearly 500 ship and dock foremen at B.C. port terminals are poised for a strike, and thousands of additional workers could follow suit, according to a report in the Surrey Leader.

Weekend negotiations broke off without a new deal between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWA) representing the foreman and the B.C. Maritime Employers' Association.

The paper speculates that a strike by the foreman could trigger additional disruptions among related workers, halting container traffic and bulk operations at the ports. Grain transportation, an essential service, is the only commodity that would not be affected if there were to be a strike.

The union recently rejected BCMEA's last offer -- a three-year deal that would increase wages and benefits by 13 percent and boost base pay rates to $46 an hour.

Meanwhile, a group of independent container haulers who threatened to strike as early as New Year's Day seem to still be on the job -- for now.

The truckers -- members of the Vancouver Container Truckers' Association (VCTA) and CAW coalition -- unanimously voted at a union meeting in late December to strike at some point early this month.

No disruptions yet, but a strike or two at the Port
of Vancouver could trigger a chain reaction.

The group is demanding, among other things, that the Vancouver Port Authority and governments do a better job of enforcing previously mandated trucking rates paid by drayage carriers. The standard rate provision was put in place via a mandatory licensing system established in 2005 in order to end a previous six-week strike by the drivers.

If the system isn't improved, the truckers will once again shut off their truck engines, the union says, creating havoc and major service disruptions at various Vancouver port terminals.

VCTA-CAW Local 2006 President Paul Johal claims that many company carriers are not upholding their end of the licensing agreement by undercutting the established rates. he also complains that the Vancouver Port Authority is not enforcing the rules.

"This kind of support shows that our members understand that the only time the governments and port authorities listen is when there is a serious threat to the operations at the port."

Unfortunately for Canadian businesses that rely on efficient coastal shipping, he's probably right.

Back in 2005, the B.C. Trucking Association complained that governments rewarded the striking truckers (some of which engaged in violence and vandalism) by undermining the free market and re-regulating the drayage sector.

In a recent interview with todaystrucking.com, Louise Yako of the BCTA said the trucking industry begrudgingly agreed to the licensing system if it would save the port from more labor unrest.

"If some form of instability shows itself again with the system in place, I think the logical question would be to ask 'what's the point of imposing that system and those costs on a sector and raising the cost of doing business at the Pacific Gateway?"


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