Port Metro Vancouver Strike Hurting Retailers

The effects of a trucker strike at Vancouver’s port are starting to be felt across the country. Major retailers can’t get their goods and pulp mills could close later this week.

Vanessa Lu, Mar 18 2014, The Star

Major Canadian retailers are already beginning to feel the impact of a truckers’ strike at Port Metro Vancouver terminals that has essentially halted container goods from moving.

“Suppliers are feeling the effects right now in their stores,” said Transport Minister Lisa Raitt during a Tuesday speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

Raitt began to rhyme off a long list of companies like Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Loblaw, Target and Hudson’s Bay she said are being impacted, noting that several corporate officials brought their concerns to her during Tuesday’s lunch.

The strike by both non-unionized and unionized truckers is now entering its third week. The container shipping terminals handle about $885 million worth of cargo each week.

“It’s not a federal labour matter. Trust me, if it was a labour matter, I would be all over it,” Raitt said.

“The reality is that some truckers are not being paid what they need to be paid in order to have a livelihood. As a result, they have withdrawn their services,” she said, comparing it to a scenario where taxi drivers refuse to pick up fares, though they still have their licenses.

The truckers have withdrawn their services, complaining that long waits to load and unload goods at terminals means they are losing money. As well, truckers have complained that some companies are undercutting each other.

“There are billions of dollars of freight sitting at the port. There are containers everywhere,” said Bob Orr, an official with Unifor, which represents about 350 unionized drivers, in an interview. “Service is completely disrupted.”

During a question-and-answer session, Orr urged Raitt to bring the parties together including both unionized drivers and non-unionized drivers to hammer out a deal.

The port has warned that if truckers don’t return to work, it could lead to suspension or termination of their permits to service the terminals.

Raitt pointed to a 14-point plan last week reached with the federal government, the B.C. government, and the port authority, and urged truckers to get back to work.

But Orr charged that the truckers were not included in the negotiations.

“We’re three weeks in, and still everyone has not been in the same room,” Orr said. “The only way this is going to get resolved is if the port authority, business owners and the truckers, Unifor, get in the room and discuss and bargain.”

Canadian National Railway obtained a court injunction last Friday to prevent obstruction of CN’s domestic intermodal terminal in Vancouver, and truck traffic now continues flow unimpeded in and out of the terminal, said CN spokesman Mark Hallman.

He said that strike is impacting “container stuffing operations” in Vancouver, where truckers take commodities such as grain, lumber and pulp from rail cars, and gets them to containers for trucking to ocean terminals for export.

Pulp mills in northern Alberta may be forced to suspend operations as early as this week because goods are piling up.

“In the latter part of this week we would expect our operations to be impacted,” said James Gorman, chief executive officer of the Council of Forest Industries.

“Probably we would take down northern Alberta operations first” because of their distance to the port. Temporary shutdowns may spread to mills in British Columbia if the industry runs out of dry storage for pulp, he said.

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