License Threat Fails to Bring Drivers Back in Vancouver

Bill Mongelluzzo, Mar 20, 2014, Journal of Commerce

A warning by the president of Port Metro Vancouver to striking truckers to report to work today or risk losing the license that allows them to perform harbor work did not have the desired effect.


Most drivers did not work today. The port authority said truck traffic was 36 percent of normal. If anything, the warning served to galvanize some drivers, who said they will continue to strike rather than giving in to such “bullying” tactics.


It also appears that both sides can play the bullying game. According to trucking industry representatives, some drivers who reported to work this week said striking truckers threw stones at their trucks and even visited their homes and made personal threats to the drivers.


Meanwhile the strike, which is now in its third week, continues to result in diversion of local cargo to Seattle and Tacoma. Intermodal containers that move by train are being accepted at the terminals. However, an analyst for the Bank of Montreal warned on March 20 that if the strike continues, Canada’s two transcontinental railroads will suffer because intermodal cargo will be diverted to U.S. ports.


On March 19, Robin Silvester, president and CEO of Port Metro Vancouver, issued a public statement that drivers who did not show up for work on March 20 risked the suspension or revocation of their license.


After the last major trucking strike in 2005, which lasted six weeks, the port authority developed its Terminal Licensing System. Since then, truckers who wish to do business in the port must secure a license from the port authority.


Silvester’s warning will initially affect those drivers whose licenses expire in March and April. Trucking companies are supposed to inform the port authority which drivers have been working and which drivers have not been working regularly, and the port authority will refuse to renew the licenses of those drivers who have not been working regularly.


Some drivers are unionized. The main union representing drivers is Unifor. More than 1,000 independent owner-operators are represented by the United Truckers Association, but the UTA has no bargaining authority under Canadian law.


Many drivers insist that they will return to work only after they negotiate directly with government agencies and the port authority and achieve what they consider to be fair wages and working conditions that result in improved truck turn times at the terminal gates. The problem with that scenario is that the government and port authority do not negotiate drivers’ wages.


Although the government has established minimum compensation rates, wages in reality are negotiated between the trucking companies and the drivers or their representative unions.


The maritime industry in Canada is concerned that as the strike drags on, Vancouver’s reputation as a reliable gateway for importers and exporters in both Canada and the U.S. will suffer. Whenever cargo interests shift to alternative gateways, a certain percentage of that discretionary cargo will not return to the port even after the strike is over.

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