National News

Feds, B.C., port plan to end trucker strike

By Keven Drews, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - The federal and B.C. governments and Port Metro Vancouver have announced a 14-point plan to resolve an ongoing strike by container-truck drivers they say has severely impacted the national economy.

Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone and port president and CEO Robin Silvester said the plan released Thursday night will ensure drivers will be paid fair compensation, reduce wait times at container terminals and create an industry oversight committee.

But it was unclear how the truckers would respond to the plan, with one union, Unifor-Vancouver Container Truckers' Association, stating in an email that it was reviewing its contents.

"Nobody's called us, nobody has informed us of anything. We're hearing it all third hand," added Manny Dosange, spokesman for the United Truckers Association, which represents 1,000 non-unionized owner-operators.

He said his association is willing to look at the plan to see if the parties can resolve the dispute.

On Sunday, Dosange said a lawsuit launched by Port Metro Vancouver against the association was standing in the way of a deal. The port is taking action over alleged damage caused by what it calls disruptive protesting and property destruction.

The port is now expected to consult with the industry and plans to implement the reforms by June 15.

Among the 14 points is a promise by the port to "commit to terminating legal actions" not related to criminal activity and rescind licence suspension that are not related to criminal activity.

The federal government said it will adjust by 10 per cent and within one month the regulated trip rates for drivers and will expedite a review of wages and fuel-surcharge rates and implement the results by mid-2015.

"I have asked Port Metro Vancouver to implement the agreed upon action plan," said Raitt in a news release. "It is time to get the port working once again and we expect the trucking industry to do their part and immediately return to work."

Stone said the port is critical to the economy of B.C. and Canada, and he had warned that unless there is a quick resolution, the dispute will drive important business to the United States.

"I am confident that the joint action plan that has been put in place today will allow the truckers to return to work and the port to return to normal operations immediately," he said.

Silvester said the port supports the changes and intends to implement them quickly, in consultation with stakeholders in the trucking community.

"Our goal is to rapidly improve the truck licensing system to more effectively manage the trucking services marketplace, improve efficiencies and ensure there is effective compliance monitoring in place with respect to rates," said Silvester in the news release.

Last week, it appeared the strike by unionized workers had been averted, when Unifor announced it had reached a tentative agreement with the truckers' employers, but the workers overwhelmingly voted to reject the offer.

Unionized truckers then parked their rigs early this week and joined non-union truckers who walked off the job in what has largely become a wage dispute.

The port, provincial and federal government announced in the Thursday night news release that the work stoppage has "resulted in sever impacts on the national economy."

In fact, on the first day of the strike, the port's container terminals saw just 10 per cent of its normal truck traffic. Port spokesman John Parker-Jervis said on Wednesday that had improved to 15 per cent.

The strike at Canada's busiest port was the subject of meetings and conference calls Thursday at some boardrooms across the country.

Ron Davidson of the Canadian Meat Council said more than 543,000 tonnes of meat, poultry and fish were shipped through the port to customers around the world last year.

"Can you imagine if we can't get our containers through that port?" he asked from Ottawa.

"Basically all of our West Coast big markets — Japan and China and what we are hoping to do in Korea, Singapore, all of those Pacific countries. It's a big impact."

The council said there are more than 400 federally registered meat, poultry and egg facilities with annual sales of more than $24 billion.

Vancouver's port moves more than $170 billion worth of goods each year. Trucks transport about half the containers that move in and out of the port. The rest are moved by rail.

The striking truckers are not employed directly by the port. They are either independent contractors or sub-contractors working for trucking companies.

Gordon Bacon, CEO of Pulse Canada, said the dispute is already affecting the $2.77-billion-a-year pea, lentil, bean and chickpea industry.

"We all work to be seen as consistent reliable suppliers to export markets around the world. This undermines the reputation we are trying hard to build," he said from Winnipeg.

Pulse Canada represents growers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario as well as food processors in B.C., Ontario and Quebec.

Both the meat council and Pulse Canada said they want the dispute to be resolved quickly, but they have not asked the B.C. or federal governments to take any specific action.

Meanwhile, CN Rail has filed an application in B.C. Supreme Court for an injunction against striking truckers, who the company says are blocking access to a CN container yard in Surrey, southeast of Vancouver.

The company has filed a notice of claim that says striking truckers have blocked or slowed traffic to the C-N facility and in at least one instance intimidated a truck driver. CN points out the dispute has nothing to do with the company.

Spokesmen for the United Truckers Association and Unifor each deny their members have done anything wrong.

"We believe we have been acting legally and lawfully and we have been obeying the wishes of the police," said McGarrigle, the Unifor spokesman.

It wasn't clear when the court will rule on CN's application.

— With files from John Cotter in Edmonton, Jennifer Graham in Regina and Dirk Meissner in Victoria

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