Vancouver Carriers By-Passed in Negotiation
VANCOUVER, BC — Carriers servicing Port Metro Vancouver say they’ve been left out of negotiations with truckers on strike even though they are the ones who can negotiate employment agreements.
“The 14-point plan addresses 80 percent of their concerns, but owners have not been engaged. We have not been asked to negotiate, to come to any talks or meetings,” Suzanne Wentt, owner of Indian River Transport told me while I was in Vancouver over the weekend.
“They can’t force a rate structure on us. I pay the driver, not the port, but they don’t want to engage with us for whatever reason,” she said.
On Friday at noon, Unifor and United Trucker Association (UTA) members formed a rally in front of Canada Place, the port’s downtown location, a hot-spot for tourists.
“This is the third dispute in 15 years,” a speaker yelled through a megaphone at the rally. “In 1991 the problem was undercutting. In 2005, it was undercutting, now, it’s the same – undercutting. Shame!”
All around me truckers cheered.
But Wentt says the truckers themselves play a part in that.
“Undercutting was created by a lot of drivers who wanted to start up, and they cut the rates,” she told me. “Those rate cutters started as small companies and have grown, but the drivers don’t want to take responsibility for it. They want someone to come in and fix it for them.”
The real problem, she says, is the “unacceptable wait times at the terminals.”
“The port is a lot of the problem,” she says. “Even in 2005, the truck drivers went on strike over trip rates and service at terminals.”
The port claims that few trucks wait longer than two hours and the 14 point plan promises truck drivers a flat fee of 25 dollars if they wait over two hours.
In 2013, the port announced its Smart Fleet Strategy, a three-year collaborative plan to improve the efficiency and reliability of the container truck sector.
But Wentt says that’s not been her experience with the port.
“First of all, not all the trucks are equipped with Port GPS and the data doesn’t match up with other companies’ GPS readings,” she says.
Wentt explained that the data can be misleading because it’s averaged out.
“You can sit outside for three hours,” she told me. “On February 24, [two days before the strike began] I had someone wait at Deltaport for seven hours. But I had many guys going in and out fast so it averages out to 90 minutes, but many of my guys were waiting three, four hours.”
To make decent money, Wentt says, a driver needs to make six moves a day, but if they wait that long at terminals they can’t make enough to get a return on their investment.
At the rally, carriers were virtually not mentioned. Truckers remain defiant in the face of back-to –work legislation which could hit them as early as Monday.
“A 90-day cooling period is not going to help. We’re going to be angrier at the end of 90 days,” Unifor’s B.C. area director, Gavin McGarrigle said at the rally. “Are the ports and the government serious about getting a sustainable solution?’ The only way to do that is a negotiated agreement.”
The truckers were chanting “stop legislating, start negotiating.”
From where I stood, I felt the tension in the air. Many rally speakers talked about the government’s actions and the back-to-work legislation, which they take as an affront on their democratic rights.
“You’re not Ronald Reagan and we’re not the air-traffic controllers,” one rally speaker yelled, to the approval of the crowd. “We stand united.”
He’s referring to the 1981 strike of air-traffic controllers, whom Reagan simply fired.
Wentt says the truckers’ concerns are legitimate, but they’re going about it the wrong way.
“We haven’t even got all the stakeholders in the same room,” she says.