Truckers strike keeps Canada’s largest container port in Vancouver shut down

By Roger Annis

Vancouver harbour, showing container cranes and grain export terminal
Vancouver harbour, showing container cranes and grain export terminal

Container traffic in and out of the port of Vancouver BC has been shut down for more than two weeks by a truckers strike. More than 1,000 non-union, independent-operator truckers walked out on February 26 demanding better pay and reduction to the unpaid time they have to wait to pick up and deliver containers.

On March 10, some 400 members of Unifor employed by trucking companies also walked out. Their main demand is to better standardize work procedures and pay rates so the jobs and salaries of truckers handling containers are not undercut by companies paying cut-rate prices in their per-load payments to non-union, independent-operator truckers. And like the owner-operator  truckers, they want an end to the long, unpaid waits to pick up loads.

According to Unifor, the average wage of unionized truckers is just under $16 per hour.

Trucks move about half the containers that come in and out of Vancouver, some to local and regional markets but most to local rail terminals. The port is operated by Port Metro Vancouver, a federal agency. It is Canada’s largest ocean port, handling large volumes of grain, agricultural products, coal, lumber and manufactured products. The largest part of truck and container movements in the port are forest products–lumber, pulp and paper.

The two groups of truckers are now discussing a proposal to end their simultaneous strikes. It has been cobbled together by the trucking companies, the Port and the federal and provincial governments. Enclosed are links to news reports providing detail.

The climate action group Rising Tide has issued a statement of solidarity with truckers. It was issued on March 12 and is titled, ‘Port Metro Vancouver expose true colours in efforts to exploit workers’. The group says in its statement, “We condemn all attacks against unions and demand that both the rights of workers to fair livelihoods and public grievances about destructive resource exports be taken seriously by Port Metro Vancouver and the BC provincial government.”

Rising Tide and other climate action groups in British Columbia are sharply critical of Port Metro Vancouver for promoting and expanding the export of climate-destroying fossil fuels, notably tar sands bitumen and coal. There are also concerns that the Port might someday promote an oil-by-rail export terminal as part of a planned expansion of the container shipping terminal at Roberts Banks in the Vancouver region. Roberts Bank is already the site of one of North American’s largest coal export terminals, called Westridge.

The big majority of grain and cereal movements through the port are not affected by the truckers strike, but farmers in western Canada are facing a transportation crisis of their own in the form of not enough railway cars to get their products to ports and international markets. The year 2013 was a bumper harvest year for grains in Canada. The Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railway duopoly denies that the shortage of grain cars is due to the rise of their oil by train traffic. It is difficult for researchers to sort fact from fiction in that dispute, but one thing is known–the railways earn more from shipping oil than they do from grain. The price they can charge for grain has a regulated maximum. It’s one of the measures taken to soften opposition to the dismantling by federal governments during the 1980s and 1990s of the ‘Crow Rate’ regulations that provided lower transportation rates for western Canadian grain producers.

Additional reading:

Officials propose 14-point plan to end truckers’ strike at Port of Vancouver
By Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun, March 14, 2014

Vancouver Port’s Truckers Dispute: The Basics
By Stanley Tromp, The, March 14, 2014

All Sides in Trucker Dispute Want More Investigations of Companies, The Tyee, March 14, 2014
Trucking firms’ payment violation records obtained by The Tyee throw light on tensions.

What the Truckers’ Fight Is All About (report on the 2005 strike at the port of Vancouver BC)

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