VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Container truck drivers at Canada's largest port reached a new deal on Thursday, narrowly avoiding an expanded job action that would have seen some 400 unionized drivers join about 1,200 non-unionized drivers who walked off the job last week.
The tentative agreement, which addresses demands made by both unionized and non-unionized drivers at Port Metro Vancouver, came after a morning of intense discussions with a government-appointed mediator and could help get hundreds of millions of dollars worth of products back on the roads.
"We have now secured a deal that will hopefully get things back to normal at the port by early next week," said Gavin McGarrigle, British Columbia area director for Unifor, which represents the unionized drivers. "Our members, as a sign of good faith, are holding off on raising a picket line for now."
Unifor's drivers, who were in a position to strike on Thursday, will vote on the proposed deal on Saturday.
Their non-unionized colleagues walked off the job on February 26 in protest over long wait times at Vancouver's port facilities, which they say cut into their profits. They were also demanding regulated pay rates, to discourage industry undercutting.
"From the non-union side, the pickets and protests will stay up until we come to some kind of conclusion," said Manny Dosange of the United Truckers Association (UTA), a non-profit group that represents many of the port's non-unionized drivers.
Dosange said his members would also vote on the deal Saturday and, if approved, the drivers could be back at work on Monday.
The eight-day strike has crippled operations at Port Metro Vancouver's container terminals, hitting the export of commodities like lumber, wood pulp and specialized grain products. Retailers too have been impacted, as the movement of household goods and construction material slowed to a crawl.
The federal government appointed a mediator on Thursday to work with the various groups on the deal and carry out an independent review of how issues may be resolved.
Port Metro Vancouver is Canada's busiest port, handling a record 135 million tonnes of cargo in 2013, including about 25 million tonnes of containerized material.
Reporting by Julie Gordon; Editing by Jeremy Laurence